Isn't it ironic that the same week former Orange County Republican Assemblywoman Doris Allen dies, it's reported that the GOP has lost its majority in the county, dipping below 50 percent for the first time in 15 years?
The first female Assembly speaker in state history and the first Orange County legislator to reach so high an office in state government, Allen succumbed to cancer on Sept. 22. She was 63.
There was little in Allen's early career to suggest she'd become a radical. She built her conservative rsum on the Huntington Beach Unified High School District board she joined after fighting against mandatory school busing in the mid-1970s.
But election to the Assembly in 1983 changed her. Ostracized by the old boys in the GOP—the men who brought upon Orange County state legislators the appellation “Cavemen”—Allen became something of a maverick, fighting for what she believed was right even if the party bosses she grew to despise didn't.
Allen took on the gun lobby, pushing through legislation that declared schools “no firearms” zones. She endeared herself to environmentalists, sponsoring a ballot measure that banned gill-net fishing off the California coast. And she was one of the first legislators to suggest the state should strictly regulate HMOs.
Worse yet, in the eyes of party leaders, Allen showed a willingness to work with Democrats to get laws passed on education, the environment and the state budget. The final blow was her Willie Brown-engineered election as Assembly speaker in 1995—the beginning of a bizarre set of events that brought her 13-year Assembly career to a fiery end.
Accused of selling out, one Republican leader said of Allen, “The first thing she ought to do is her hair.” (In true Weekly fashion, we immediately doctored Allen's photo to come up with some new potential hairdos for her.) Allen gave it right back, referring to her GOP enemies as a “bunch of powermongering men with short penises.” (The Weekly chose not to doctor any photos to show that, but Lord knows we were tempted.)
Abandoned by her party, which all the way up to then-Governor Pete Wilson campaigned for her recall, Allen was booted out of her seat in the same tainted 1995 election that christened her replacement: Scott “Slime” Baugh. Four associates of Baugh and Assemblyman Curt Pringle (R-Garden Grove), who wound up speaker once the smoke cleared, were later convicted of falsifying election documents.
More fallout: then-District Attorney Mike “Mad Dog” Capizzi's political career was doomed for pursuing charges against Baugh in the reeking election. GOP leaders treated Capizzi like a pariah when he ran for state attorney general, someone else was propped up for the nomination and Democrat Bill Lockyer eventually won the seat.
This willingness to sacrifice their own radicalized Allen. Even from a long way off, she could sense the repercussions: Republicans taking a drubbing in the last election. New Orange County voters failing to check the Republican box on their registration cards. Maverick Republicans with ideals close to Allen's holding a rally across the street from the recent state Republican convention in Anaheim to call for change now.
If Doris Allen is to be remembered for nothing else, it should be that she was the first to recognize that if the Republican Party did not abandon its extremist, alienating, star-chamber ways, it was destined for oblivion.
Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the paper’s first calendar editor. He went on to be managing editor, executive editor and is now senior staff writer.