Former state senator Gary Hart died on January 27, 2022, but several weeks before, his onetime Santa Barbara field representative Michael DeLapa wrote a remembrance of their friendship.
I met Gary in 1987 on Rich Leib’s couch. Nothing funny, I assure you. I drove from Santa Barbara to Santa Monica to interview for a job as Gary’s field representative in Santa Barbara. The interview was at 8 p.m. at the apartment of a guy I never met. So that seemed a little strange to me. Even stranger was this tall, friendly, soft-spoken state senator who I remember peppering me with questions — questions about Stanford, where he had gone, and basketball, which he had played, and other sports, which we both enjoyed, and Italy, which we both had love for. Funny, he never asked about my qualifications or politics. I asked him a few things, including where he was staying. When he pointed to Rich’s couch, I knew we would be kindred spirits — Italiophilic Stanford sports enthusiasts with a predilection for couch-surfing.
Fast forward to Gary’s campaign for Congress in 1988. I was canvassing local businesses with him, and a woman in a supermarket approached us. Earnestly, she explained her love of Jesus and Christianity, and asked Gary how he felt about the Son of God. Gary, not skipping a beat, replied enthusiastically, “I support him.”
While I only worked officially for Gary for two years, 1987-1989, I feel like we’ve worked together for 34 years. At times, it even feels much longer. He regularly asks my opinion on things I don’t know a lot about — of which there are many — which causes me to pause, research, think, and then state with certainty something I’m pretty unsure of. Gary humors me.
But he also humors me in the other sense: We laugh together. A lot. We both appreciate the absurdity of politics and the human condition. As bad as it can sometimes seems, it’s generally a lot worse.
Gary has a lot of qualities I admire. Empathy. Curiosity. Humility. The ability to listen to really dumb people without screaming. I’m especially jealous of that.
A lot of people know and benefited from Gary’s good judgment. But Gary has made bad decisions as well. He drinks, and he gambles. And he went to Harvard. Really bad decisions.
But the best example of his worst judgment is it he chose me as a friend. Terrible decision. Really, on Rich Leib’s couch he could of, he should of, recommended I work for someone else, like maybe for Jack O’Connell. But he didn’t, and so for the past 34 years he has been regularly subjected to egregious torment, bad puns, and acerbic bantering. These are things no sensible man would ever willing choose.
But I am so, so glad he did.