Lost amidst the tumult of the last several weeks was the quiet passing of an outspoken leader of California – H.L. “Bill” Richardson. H.L., as he was known to his friends, arrived in the California State Senate with the freshman class of 1966, part of the Reagan landslide that year.
For every one of the 22 years he served in the Senate, H.L. was a force to be reckoned with. He served for many years in the Republican leadership, but he was never, ever, a political insider. His enormous influence inside the senate stemmed from the fact that he never joined that club – he never lost sight of the people who elected him – and he not only worked tirelessly to serve them inside the capitol – he worked even harder to organize, inform and mobilize them outside the capitol.
He founded a multitude of advocacy groups to empower the millions of Californians who believed in individual liberty and economic freedom. He started the “Free Market Political Action Committee,” to support free market principles and the candidates who embraced them, and it became the inspiration and prototype of groups like the Club for Growth and Americans for Prosperity and Freedomworks today.
In the 1970’s, when Jerry Brown first came to power and appointed radical leftists to the California Courts, H.L. founded the “Law and Order Campaign Committee,” which became the driving force behind the historic recall of Chief Justice Rose Bird and two of her associates on the California Supreme Court. That organization went on for many years to restore common sense to the California courts and criminal justice system, including pressing the legislature to restore the death penalty over Jerry Brown’s veto.
His passion for the Second Amendment was his most defining cause. He founded “Gun Owners of California” to fight the growing movement in California to disarm law-abiding citizens, and its success not only beat back Proposition 15 – a 1982 initiative to severely restrict handguns in California — it generated so many new second amendment voters in that election to put George Deukmejian over the top by a tiny margin of victory over Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley in the race for Governor that year. Gun Owners of California continues its good work to this day, as does its spin-off, Gun Owners of America.
H.L. had a wicked sense of humor that was its keenest when bursting bubbles of political pomposity. One of his half-dozen published books – still required reading in some college courses – is titled, “So, What Makes You Think We Read the Bills?” His book, “Confrontational Politics,” offers a civilized but no less resolute conservative response to Saul Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals.”
California – once called “The Golden State,” is today drawing more and more attention as a slow-moving train wreck. The radical left has dominated the state’s institutions for more than 20 years now, and California is showing all the political, social and economic pathologies that accompany leftist governance: failing schools, rising crime, chronic traffic congestion, skyrocketing costs of housing, energy and water, rampant homelessness, oppressive regulations, the highest effective poverty rate in the nation and a population now fleeing to other states.
Sen. H.L. Richardson held back that tide for nearly 30 years — he was a mighty seawall that protected California from the left – giving one final generation of Californians the joy of living in the most prosperous and beautiful state in the nation. But as age took its toll, his influence waned, the left steadily advanced, and none of us who he inspired to follow him have been able to stop it.
On January 13, H.L. Richardson passed away at the age of 92, and with him passed the Golden California of freedom, opportunity and prosperity that he fought so hard, so long and so effectively to preserve. Perhaps the day will come when California will see a rebirth of freedom, and on that day H.L.’s wisdom, courage and leadership will show that generation the way back.
We can hasten that day by remembering and celebrating his life, his lessons and his achievements.