For reasons too obvious to share, I have been thinking lately about bad public officials, people who never should have been elected.
Surprisingly, in my 40 years of scrounging for news, I haven’t come across all that many total duds. Most of the mayors, supervisors, council members, township trustees, senators, etc., that I wrote about have been decent folks working long hours for little reward. There were glaring exceptions, though.
One of the worst, in my humble view, was Michael Morrison, who was a member of the Marina City Council starting about 16 or so years ago. Just about everything Morrison did or said was suspect. There was the time he claimed he had been hired by the Secret Service to provide an extra layer of protection for a presidential candidate’s wife. And the time he forced his own wife to hide from him. And when he pretended to be doing research for the city so he could get trade information about a competing business. (He then blamed the competing business for making it too easy to steal its secrets.)
But the worst and least effective political figure I ever covered was a one-time mayor of Fresno. His name is Dale Doig and he was elected mayor in 1985, so long ago now that I don’t remember whom he ran against.
Doig once told me the secret to his political success. The night before each election, he would call around to busy restaurants and bowling alleys to have himself paged. It created a connection to the voters, he explained.
Before becoming mayor, Doig was on the City Council. He had campaigned as a reform candidate who would stand up to the developers who were building whatever they wanted wherever they wanted. But on his first day on the council, he had lunch with a couple of developers and instantly became a former reformer. Doig used to brag that he was a better poker player than the developers because he always seemed to win.
After he had been on the council a few years, it was Doig’s turn to become mayor pro tem, essentially the council president. But during a council retreat, the rest of the council lectured him harshly about how he’d have to get serious and learn the job. He later explained to the local newspaper, the Fresno Bee, that his colleagues were worried because he had a drinking problem. He said he had solved it by getting his wife into a program. He was entirely serious.
I was a reporter for the Bee back then and I was assigned to write about Doig’s first 100 days as mayor. My clearest memory from the piece was one paragraph. Remember, this was for a mainstream newspaper 30-plus years ago, not some alternative paper or cheeky blog. The paragraph read very much like this: “Interviews with dozens of past and present city officials and employees reveal an almost total lack of respect for Doig both as a person and as a public official.”
Doig really had no agenda, no plan for the city. He launched no initiatives, convened no panels, attempted no reforms. He did appoint a convicted cocaine dealer to the city’s economic development commission after the dealer arranged for a friendly pimp to send a hooker to visit the mayor a time or two. (She later told a TV station she wasn’t the kind of hooker who would sleep with a mayor.)
Fresno was a great place to be a reporter because it was every bit as crooked as Monterey County. Doig’s best friend and adviser was a garbage company lobbyist who wanted the city’s business. I’m not going to write about some of the things they did because nobody would believe it.
When Doig was considering re-election after four years in office, his developer buddies wanted rid of him. His political clumsiness was making people suspicious. The king of the development community, John Bonadelle, called me with a plan. He correctly guessed that I had other tidbits about the mayor in my notebook, things I hadn’t been able to print without corroboration. His suggestion was that I write them and he would swear that Doig had admitted all of it to him. For real. Doig decided not to run.
So why am I telling you this? There’s not a lot of interest in Dale Doig these days, not even in Fresno. It comes down to two points, I guess. First, that Fresno somehow survived Doig’s years, which suggests that our political system is stronger than it looks. And second, I’m thinking that, on reflection, even hapless Dale Doig would probably be a better president than the one we’ve got coming.
What’s that, you say. Oh, come on. You can’t mean it. You’ve gone over the top, Mr. Partisan.
Well, maybe so. But consider this. Doig never stood in front of a crowd and mocked a disabled person. He seldom made promises he couldn’t keep, and while it’s true that he seldom made promises at all, is that worse than making false promises?
There isn’t a single Donnie Trump promise that appeals to me, so I’m hoping that he continues on his current path of breaking campaign vows. His cabinet appointments scare me and what makes it worse is realizing that those who accept are the kind of people willing to take orders from a sociopath.
Doig, for all his flaws, never would have considered appointing Rudy Giuliani to anything except possibly official carnival barker. Unless Rudy sent hookers. Doig might have taken advice from the likes of that Breitbart guy but on nothing more serious than a city garbage contract. Doig read books. He knew how government works. As far as I know, he never grabbed a woman and certainly never bragged about it. He was at his most Trumplike when he let developers take him out for lunch but kept the receipt so he could turn it in.
Still, considering what a “successful” Trump presidency might look like, I’d take a Doig administration over a Trump regime anytime. Doig was a do-nothing mayor. Nothing would make me happier than seeing little Donnie Trump become a do-nothing president. That we might be able to survive.