Saturday, December 6, 2008

Piano Player Becomes a Senator

December, 1993. I was searching for someone to play Christmas carols for seventeen of my friends to sing along to at my Cookie Exchange. Bob Huff volunteered. He prefaced his offer by asking me not to expect too much. Since his fee was exactly what my husband wanted me to budget (nothing), without touching a key or hearing his voice, Bob got the job.
Bob never told me that when he was in college at Westmont, he recorded two albums of hymns with the Russia for Christ Choir. They performed in Russian for shortwave radio stations to beam inside the iron curtain during the Cold War. His warm voice just might be responsible for the thaw in international relations.
Since he doesn't remember the words now, Bob doesn't tell people that he has sung in French, German, Latin and Spanish.
If you want to know Bob's impressive resume'- that can be looked up on-line. But if you ever are asked in a stump the guest game, what languages Bob has sung in, you can add to the list above, Mandarin, Taiwanese and- of course- English.

December 2008, my piano player with the melodious voice is now California State Senator Robert S. Bob Huff. There are very few occasions when a gal gets to see a personal friend go to the Senate. So with my husband's blessing and encouragement, I flew up to Sacramento for the day. To see Mei Mei's "Bobby" sworn in.

I called my trustworthy travel agent- Patty Gee booked me on Southwest Airlines, out of Ontario Airport.

These are my recollections, observations, and commentary from this most significant day.

The early morning was gorgeous. As the sun lifted the day from darkness, it back- lit the hillsides in dark silhouette. Iridescent peach-colored clouds shimmered in the turquoise sky like a giant silk sari from above tossed across the landscape.

I didn't know my full fortune. Fog closed airports that morning from San Diego to Sacramento for hours. Friends flying up from Long Beach Airport (including the one with a rental car, and the one who knew the full address of where to meet in the Capitol) were delayed 5 hours. Not even the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Ronald George was able to officiate as scheduled: fog.

The fog lifted just enough in Sacramento for my plane to land close to on-time. I was in the right City. I knew who, what, why, when.

The driver pointed the cab in the direction of the capitol, turned on the meter and drove. To his amusement- I am in the backseat dialing from my cell phone trying to find out where exactly I am supposed to be. The 411 operator swears there is no phone assigned to Robert Huff in either the Assembly or the Senate. With the changing of the guard, the Capitol Operator was too busy to help.
I forget if it was Tim Shaw, Jr. or Jody Roberto who answered their cell phone. They were among the group still bonding at the Long Beach Airport. I now had a room number. Fortunately, there is only one building to choose from.

People dress differently in the Capitol. The male visitor's guides at the airport wore top hats and tails straight out of Dickens. The officers guarding the capitol sit tall in the saddle. They looked quite happy. The officers inside the building wear these Smokey-the-Bear hats and very serious faces.

Being a So Cal lifer, I am used to dress-casual being appropriate for all but the most formal event. The only other times I have seen so many dressed in dark ensembles is at funerals or in movies like The Godfather.

Okay- The guys really looked smart in their suits and ties. The women were svetle.

(Mei Mei Ho Huff with daughter Jessica)

(Bob with wife and daughter)

(Bob with Mark Mendoza)

Me, in my camel woolen sweater over a suede skirt and
boots- I looked like a tea-stained polar bear.

After a light buffet breakfast graciously served in the Senate President pro Tempore's reception area- the prosciutto wrapped asparagus were scrumptious- my camera and I had time to do a little exploring on our own.

The California Capitol building- much of it is utilitarian. But then there are these wonderful details scattered about underneath the tall ceilings- although I must admit- that hanging finial in the Senate Galley- in an earthquake- I wouldn't want to be sitting underneath this

This tile "rug"- the detail from the trip I would most like to bring home. It was not in any special room. It was just infront of an elevator hallway. The very simple vine and border's intricate execution graced the otherwise plebian space with understated elegance.

It was fun to compare the portraits of two California Governor's hanging on the same grouping in a back hallway- the late President Ronald Reagan and now Attorney General Jerry Brown . The official portraits are as different from the men themselves.

The Assembly deliberates on green carpeting.The Senate deliberate on rich red flooring. Perhaps this Christmas- year-round ambiance created this legislative majority class to vote as though they are, as a body, Santa Claus incarnate.

Promptly at 11:45, Lieutenant Governor John Garamendi welcomed the Senators, families and guests to the opening of the 2009-2010 regular session of the California Senate.

The Sacramento Children's Chorus sang away my political cynicism. Joy to the season!

The Chaplain of the Senate, Rabbi Mona Alfi's invocation of brought God in the room ahead of any politics. As it should be.

When the Hon. Arthur G. Scotland, Presiding Justice, California Court of Appeal, Third Appellate District administered the oath of office to Bob and his colleagues, my pride in Bob manifest itself in tears. Bob is not just an able legislature- he is a truly good man. I thought about all the men who serve because they are addicted to microphones and cameras- the attention. Bob is one of those who loves the work. Government is his calling. Nothing more, nothing less.

The President pro Tempore of the Senate Darrell Steinberg delivered his opening speech. He seems quite an affable man- although my first impression is a bit more complicated than that. He opened his remarks with the admission that our beloved state is 28 billion dollars in debt. His words which followed then did not square the the gravity ot answer how best to come to terms- to get past the economic emergency. The way he quoted President Lincoln about the need to "hustle"- was way out of context. The misappropriation of words gave me "Republican Reflex"- aka "Hold-on-to-Your Wallet" syndrome. That tacky 80's pop tune "Do the Hustle" played on my imagination. He spoke of bonds-triggering my impish-Irish alter-ego into thinking that he would hold us in "bond-age".

It was a missed opportunity. It tinged my happiness for Bob with some sadness for the process. There is much to agree on in a general sense- but rather than build consensus- Senator Steinberg's speech became a lecture which left me thinking he had the potential to be a one man filibuster. His speech convinced me- of all the minority labels I qualify to use- the only one which in this day an age causes me to be an outcast- is that I am a Republican in California. It is the only minority label the legislature refuses to give any measure of respect to. It should.

The Minority Floor Leader Dave Cogdill was right in his remarks which followed. There is agreement on many of the platitudes of Senator Steinberg. However, God is not just in the details- so is the devil.

Departing, I wondered if those at the front dias had come to take for granted these words, widely attributed to Cicero, emblazoned on the front of the Senate rostrum

Senatoris est civitatis libertatem tueri.


It is the duty of the senators to protect the liberty of the citizens

Bob takes his work seriously. His first day as a Senator, Bob introduced legislation to implement performance-based budgeting. Way to Go, Bob! There is no liberty for the citizens if we are subject to unbridled predatory taxation.

Bob and wife, Mei-Mei, walked hand in hand, leading what ended up being nearly 40 family, friends and staff to lunch two blocks to the Pyramid Alehouse. A most efficient waiter kept us in soft drinks fed us from a menu selected for the occasion. What to eat? When in doubt: ask the waiter. His suggestion-Philly cheese steak sandwich- was the best I've ever eaten.

Some time before we took our last bites- the Long Beach crew entered to a standing ovation! And a well deserved lunch.

Appetites satisfied, those who had not made it in time for Bob's swearing in could finally peak at his new office.
We all met up again at Bob and Mei Mei's Sacramento home. Chatting and waiting to head back to our respective homes. Next comes under saving the best for last. Meeting members of Bob's original large farm family.
Sitting in the Huff family room, it was as if I stepped into a Norman Rockwell painting and it sprung to life. Over the fireplace were a signature collection of old tools, very much like he has kept in every home I've known him to have.

Meet Clyde Huff and his wife, Joan. Clyde was standing just above me in the gallery during the swearing-in. His pride in his baby brother, Bob, was manifest in his face. baby brother- Bob. Joan, shown with tools, is the quilter in the family.

Meet John and Pat Huff. John is seen with the youngest guest- Jared- who turned the trip into a school project. Pat (seen below with table cloth) was decorating a tablecloth with "chicken scratch". She told me the technique is often called "poor man's lace". Its like cross-stitching- but each symbol sewn on is not just an "x'. It's a cross stitched over a star. Light thread is stitched over dark squares: dark stitches over light squares. The pattern created is pure farmhouse delight.

Bruce and Liz "Bob's sister" Leary- are the operations and programming directors of CORR- City of Refuge Ranch ministires- offering Biblical Studies to inmates and working hard to expand their ministry dedicated to safely and responsibly returning parolees to God and society. Liz crocheted.

Doreen, a family friend, drove up with Bruce and Liz. She was knitting a scarf to become a Christmas present. Originally from England- she knows the town where my husband was born. Now she lives in neighboring Chino Hills- the Leary's picked her up on their way up.

It was nearing time to depart. The fog was rolling back in, thick and fast. Denise Bitell let me hitch a ride with her, Jody, Tim, Edda Gahm and Leia Hernandez. Their flight was leaving after mine.

Our special day ended pretty much the way it started. I got home easily. The poor Long Beach contingent continued their adventure when they landed in Burbank- took a rental car to Long Beach to pick up their cars- then drove back to their homes. In the fog.

Pat Gee is with Progressive Travel, located in the Pacific Palms Resort, City of Industry.

Mark Mendoza is Real Estate Program Manager for Ace.- Alameda Corridor East

I met Ronald Reagan once when he was Governor. I was probably a high school sophomore.

Pyramid Alehouse 1029 K St., Sacramento, CA 95814 (916) 498-9800 other locations found at website

The legislation introduced Bob's first day as a Senator is detailed at

More information on CORR can be found at


  1. Lydia, What a wonderful description of the cookie exchange and your piano player, who is a friend of mine as well. Of course the trip to Sacramento was problematic for five of us, just call us the fog group. We were lucky to reach there at all. Luckier to arrive home in one piece that night as well. Wonderful candid shots of his family and friends, as well as some of the Capitol detail. Thanks for being a super reporter of an interesting day. Edda

  2. Lydia,
    WOW!! What a wonderful and descriptive blog about Bob and your day at the swearing in! You have inserted the details that I was longing for! I want to know details and you have provided them for us!
    As a long time friend, volunteer and ambassador for our Bob I was so disappointed not to be able to attend this swearing in. I was happy to have been able to fly up with our friends for his assembly swearing in. This time my San Frincisco son was still here from Thanksgiving and I couldn't bear to leave him for his last full day at home.
    You were fortunate to have been in the gallery for the swearing in for the senate. When Bob was sworn into the assembly all but family had to watch on closed circuit television from his office.

    You described the man whom we all know and love and admire so well. We are indeed a fortunate bunch to be able to call him a personal friend.
    Bob, kudos my friend and know that you are constantly making us all proud of you!
    XOXO Trisha

  3. Lydia,
    What a fascinating trip to Sacramento - I love the detail in which you recounted it, and all of the pictures !

    you are a very cute tea-stained polar bear, btw :)

    That tile 'rug' was gorgoeus !

  4. Thank you guys for writing in!
    I love it when people drop in comments.
    We were lucky to have room for all of us in the gallery. If as many people showed up for everyone as they did for Bob- allot more people would have been watching on TV instead of in person.
    They were very strict about no flash photography and no standing in the aisles. Once that place was full- no one else was let in.

    I tried to strike a balance between the personal side of the Huffs and still not invade their privacy.

  5. Lydia, I enjoyed reading your colorful account of your trip to Sac. I lived there for about 2 years when my daughter was little. Interesting town, lousy drivers! :O) I read your other blogs I haven't had time to catch up on lately as well. Good job! .. and no, you didn't look like a "tea stained polar bear". Silly. Very pretty outfit. Very pretty lady.
    Oregon Sue


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