Bosco: The Curse That Keeps On Giving

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by Will Parrish on Mar 23rd, 2011

In the more than a third of a century since Douglas H. Bosco first carved himself out as a fixture of the California North Coast’s power structure, one of the surest guides to locating systemic corruption across the region’s dominant business and governmental institutions has been to determine if, and how, they are linked to the man previously dubbed by this publication as Boxcorp.

It’s actually a relatively straightforward formula. The extent to which Bosco devotes his time and energy to a given project marks the exact degree to which that activity is doubtless tainted by graft, extortion, and associated wrongdoings that, when practiced on a smaller scale, by people with considerably less access to wealth and resources, usually result in several-year prison terms. Which is exactly the fate that befell some of Bosco’s biggest boosters who played an active part in advancing the Savings & Loan scandal of the 1980s — as noted in detail by Stephen Pizzo, Mary Prickner and Paul Muolo in their book In$ide Job: The Looting of America’s Savings and Loans.

First, there was Bosco’s tenure in public office. Throughout two unfortunate terms on the California State Assembly (1978-82), then four as first district congressional representative (1982-90), he enthusiastically provided the region’s most rapacious corporations license to loot at every turn, toadying up to the rich and powerful as though it were a regularly established custom in government — which, in actual fact, it is and virtually always has been.

From there, it was on to a life of private luxury perched amid that preferred neighborhood of Santa Rosa’s ruling class, McDonald Avenue. Bosco’s luxurious dwelling is located just down the street from Santa Rosa’s most famous home: McDonald Mansion. Indeed, since going down in ignominious defeat in the 1990 Congressional election, edged out by upstart Republican candidate Frank Riggs in a predominately Democratic district (Peace & Freedom Party candidate Diane Comingore whittled off a big chunk of very disgruntled Democrats), Bosco has continued to use the wealth and connections he acquired as a public officeholder to do more than his fair share of damage.

Case in point: forest liquidation. During his Congressional tenure, Bosco did much to facilitate the pillage of this region’s ill-starred redwood and Doug fir forests by the most egregious plunderers ever to descend on this area’s ill-starred bioregions, Maxxam Inc. and Louisiana-Pacific. Once out of office, he was onto Maxxam’s payroll, pulling down a reported $15,000 a month in an effort to head off state and federal regulation by corporate timber’s few brave opponents in Sacramento and Washington, DC. In 1994, While still on the Maxxam dole, Bosco even ran again in the Democratic primary in an effort to unseat incumbent Dan Hamburg.

For the most part, Bosco has sustained himself in the past two decades with his law practice — in part, a euphemism for lobbying. Currently, he is employed by one of the nation’s largest big business-oriented law firms, Hanson Bridgett LLP of San Francisco. He has worked for a variety of others, including heading up the “public law practice” of Holland & Knight, LLP, a favorite of the regional wine industry.

Bosco also married well. His wife, retired Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Gayle Guynup, is the daughter of one of the North Coast’s most successful homespun entrepreneurs, Victor Guynup, whose business interests have ranged from raw log export (i.e., killing hundreds of millworker jobs) to gravel mining to ranching. Bosco and Guynup were financial partners even during Bosco’s Congressional tenure, when Bosco was ostensibly supposed to be helping regulate the man whose fortune Bosco’s wife is heir to.

But throughout his post-Congressional career, Bosco has remained conspicuously absent from public view. The Santa Rosa Press Democrat has occasionally carried word of his activities. A private fundraiser at the McDonald Ave. estate for Gray Davis here. One for Arnold Schwarzenegger there. (He always seemed like a closet Republican anyway). Then again, even during his tenure in Congress, Bosco was rarely accessible to his constituents, preferring instead to devote his time to currying favor with large donors.

So, when Bosco suddenly turned up at a pair of Sonoma County Board of Supervisors meetings last year, speaking at the rostrum before a roomful of people whose power pales in comparison to his own, it naturally prompted a fair degree of speculation as to the old boy’s intention. As the theory goes, Bosco surely wouldn’t have deigned to appear at this sort of venue without a larger purpose in mind.

In the first case, this past September, Bosco spoke out on behalf of an application by Fort Ross Vineyard & Winery which sought approval to build a tasting room near the end of a treacherous, winding stretch of road leading from Highway One to the coastal hamlet of Fort Ross. Among other salient points, local residents expressed concern that inebriated patrons of this glorified booze bar in the farthest reaches of western Sonoma County would cause accidents. Bosco was acting in the capacity of attorney for the vineyard which already had one other lawyer and, in fact, is owned by another well-to-do attorney out of San Francisco.

It immediately struck many onlookers as strange that Bosco would bother to appear in public to promote the tasting room. The matter already rested in the capable hands of Sonoma County’s Board of Supervisors, who through their various incarnations have almost always approved even the most egregious proposals brought before them by the wine industry on 5-0 votes. Apparently, Bosco was hired on as the project’s attorney at the last minute.

Next, Bosco appeared before the SoCo Supes at a contentious November session to promote a long-running proposal by Napa-based Syar Industries to conduct extensive gravel mining in the Russian River bed. The Supervisors approved the project, narrowly, on a 3-2 vote. It had been so long since Bosco made his position known in public with regard to a visible issue that most of the people on hand at the meeting, including many of Sonoma County’s longest-running political activists, didn’t even recognize him.

Be that as it may, Bosco’s relevance to local politics has not faded. This past December, California Governor Jerry Brown, who was then California Gov.-elect Jerry Brown, held a conference with California legislators for an initial discussion regarding his plans to carry out fiscal austerity measures. Earlier in the week, Brown had reportedly conducted a conference call with 10 top advisers to prep him for the session. One person among this extremely select group was Doug Bosco.

The Brown-Bosco connection dates to Bosco’s term as a California State Assemblyman, which coincided with Brown’s second term as Governor. Brown and his wife, Anne, spent their honeymoon luxuriating in the beauty of the Russian River. They lodged at one of Bosco’s second or third homes, located nearby. So, it came as no surprise that when Brown kicked off the concerted fundraising part of his campaign this past summer, his first stop was Bosco’s home up on McDonald Ave., where roughly 40 of the North Coast’s wealthiest citizens gathered to place a few of their chips — that is to say, collectively more than $100,000 —with the Democratic Party’s nominee.

Thus, when Brown makes appointments to regulatory agencies that bear on the North Coast’s housing conditions, watersheds, forests, fisheries, and other matters of public concern, Bosco will invariably be the first person he turns to for counsel. By the same token, when the various powerful interests allied with Bosco need to run a favor through Sacramento, they will know where to turn to gain access to the Governor’s office.

In next week’s AVA, I’ll examine in greater detail the web of big business interests in which Bosco is enmeshed and the inordinate political influence they collectively wield. The AVA is the most fitting forum to conduct such an update on the former Congressman’s political influence. Bosco himself, after all, has blamed this newspaper’s persistent coverage of his “roll-me-over-and-do-it — again — big biz promiscuity” — for unseating him from Congress.