Retired political reporter and consultant Steve Swatt was bummed out at about 9 p.m. July 1, 2014, when he got the email from University of California Press rejecting the book proposal he had made with three friends, but he didn’t waste time sulking.
Instead, Swatt; his wife, Susie Swatt, a longtime legislative staffer; political consultant Jeff Raimundo; and veteran political editor Rebecca LaVally quickly regrouped. The note from UC Press suggested that the co-authors submit their proposal to Berkeley’s Heyday Books.
When Swatt went to the Heyday website, he said, he noticed that the publisher was teaming up with the California Historical Society to sponsor a book competition. The only trouble was that the deadline was July 1.
Swatt, LaVally and Raimundo all had decades of experience meeting deadlines at such outlets as The San Francisco Examiner, United Press International, KCRA-TV, Gannett, The Bee and other McClatchy Co. newspapers. And Susie Swatt? The award-winning researcher knew how and where to get information.
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“What they wanted to see was one completed chapter,” Steve Swatt told me, “and we had one completed chapter, but they also wanted a complete annotated table of contents ... We scrambled that evening to polish up that one chapter and get the other chapters annotated. We finally finished at 11:47 in the evening.”
Their proposal was chosen from 33 entries for the CHS Book Award, bringing with it a Heyday publishing deal and a small advance of $5,000. “Game Changers: Twelve Elections That Transformed California” (Heyday Books, 338 pages, $20) will be available at Barnes & Noble and Avid Reader in early October. It can be pre-ordered at amazon.com.
The four retirees said they thought a book would be like a letter to their grandchildren, explaining why they’d dedicated their lives to politics, and it also would help apathetic and disaffected voters understand why elections matter. The co-authors chose elections as far back as 1861 and as recent as 1990.
“We wanted to show voters that votes do count and that elections have consequences and that California is defined by its elections and the unpredictable directions voters have taken over the years,” Steve Swatt said. “There are consequences that we are living with today from votes taken over a hundred years ago.”
That includes the 1861 election that gave Leland Stanford, then president of the Central Pacific Railroad, the governorship, and he engineered what many consider to be scams to get money to build his railroad, Swatt said. At the time, the railroads were considered to be a crucial link to trade.
Stanford’s election ended up giving railroads control over many facets of life for Californians, Swatt said. It wasn’t until 1910 that Hiram Johnson and the progressives established a commission to loosen Southern Pacific’s grip on power. They also instituted the initiatives and referendums so familiar to Californians today to give direct democracy to state residents. “Game Changers” draws the line between cause and effect, Swatt said.
Heyday publisher Malcolm Margolin, one of the contest judges, wrote Swatt and told him that he would publish the book, even if it didn’t win the contest. Margolin said: “I’ve seen many miracles. I’ve seen four babies born ... I’ve watched dead languages come alive. I’ve lived to see a black man elected president. These pale in significance at the miracle before me. You have managed to make state politics interesting.”