Sunday, February 03, 2008


Artie Samish never ran for public office, but for decades he was one of the most powerful -- and colorful -- players in California politics.

Before California had a full-time Legislature and when special interests could quietly give unlimited amounts of money to elect favored candidates, he was a consummate string-puller, a hired gun working for the highest pay. And, from the 1920s through the early 1950s, he used his clients' money and his insider's knowledge of how Sacramento worked to "select and elect" legislators.

Standing 6 feet 2 and weighing 300 pounds, he bragged that he could tell in an instant whether a lawmaker needed "a baked potato, a girl, or money." The self-styled "secret boss of California" loved to boast about how he once got a transient elected to the Assembly and about his prowess at getting bills passed to benefit railroads, the liquor industry, racetracks and others who paid him big bucks to lobby.

But his outsized ego also proved to be his undoing. Boastful statements in a 1949 magazine series soon cost him his lobbying career and eventually helped put him in prison for tax evasion.

"The Samish era was a strong motivation for [Assembly Speaker] Jesse Unruh to advocate the full-time Legislature [in 1966]," said Tracy Wood, a former Capitol reporter for UPI and The Los Angeles Times.

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