Interview with Wally Knox 


WEEKLY: You’ve been in the Assembly five years now, you’re now up against term limits. What have been your most notable achievements in the legislature.

WALLY KNOX: Well, this last year was a remarkable culmination of a lot of work that I’ve been doing for five years in the State Legislature. And in this last year, I finally brought to fruition a project that’s been very important to me for the five years, and that is the eight hour day legislation. [A bill that mandated anything over eight hours in a day counted as overtime.] Literally, from the day I walked into the legislature, I started working on the eight hour day issue. I swore a blood oath with [then-state AFL-CIO leaders] Jack Henning and Tom Rankin that we would keep the issue alive year after year after year, that we would find a Democratic candidate who would pledge to restore the eight hour day if elected governor, get the candidate elected governor, and restore the eight hour day in statutory form so that no subsequent governor could ever repeal the eight hour day.

WEEKLY: And how had we gotten to the point where more than 8 hours was not considered overtime?

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KNOX: Pete Wilson. California for 80 years had had one of the most progressive laws in the country that you got time and a half for working for any time you worked past eight hours a day in most instances. Pete Wilson repealed that. Last year, I drafted the bill and negotiated for about a month with the Governor [Gray Davis], and made the necessary compromises, and we restored the eight hour day. I have to say, looking back on a lifetime of representing working people as a lawyer, and then going to the State Legislature, to achieve something like making the eight hour day permanent law for the next century in California is an enormous source of personal satisfaction.

Last year was amazing, because projects I’d worked on for years came to fruition. In addition to the eight hour day, we got the Handgun Limitation Bill enacted, something Chief Parks and Sarah Brady asked me to start working on three years ago, thinking it was an impossible project.

WEEKLY: And what does the bill do?

KNOX: It limits handgun purchases to one per month. Chief Parks thinks it’ll cut the black market in weapons by somewhere between 30 and 50 percent by the end of this year. We do not know how many lives that will save, but it will be a lot. It’ll make it vastly more difficult for criminals to get a hold of weapons and for kids to get a hold of weapons. It doesn’t solve the problem overnight, but is a huge practical step forward. It is the most significant gun legislation the state has seen alongside the ban on assault weapons. And it took three years of slugging it out against the NRA.

WEEKLY: What kind of further gun control measures would you like to see come out of the Legislature at this point?

KNOX: Well, there’s going to be a multi-year fight on licensing and registration. And the two leaders on that are Kevin Shelly and Jack Scott, currently of the Assembly. I’m obviously strongly supportive of their efforts, but let’s be clear here: It’s unlikely that that will be done this year. Those are really tough, tough measures to get through. In the long term, though, what we need is definitely a licensure registration system.

WEEKLY: If there were no NRA, if there were no political limitations, if you were the philosopher king -- what kind of policy would you like to see on guns?

KNOX: I’ve never thought about that, because I live with the NRA every single day. But I do think we need a very carefully devised licensure and registration system. We simply don’t know where the weapons are, we don’t know really who has them. We have a good computerized tracking system in place now, but the laws aren’t plugged in to deal with that. So if we set up a good licensure system where people are licensed to carry weapons if they undergo proper training, have a clean felony record, all those kinds of things, you’re going to do a lot to start policing the possession of weapons in a society. If you follow that up with a registration program where each weapon is carefully registered and reregistered every year, you’re going to do a lot to clean up the number of weapons in society. The NRA, as a political force, has an existing base of support in the general community that it magnifies tremendously. So, I think, licensure and registration is where you’d ultimately end up if you didn’t have to deal with the NRA, because there still is a tremendous population out there that’s suspicious of any other kind of activity. And I think that’s the reasonable place to end up. But it could take another decade worth of work right there. And with the presence of the NRA, it’s just incredibly difficult to figure out how you can get it done.

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