The week after Mother’s Day, 2019, a few California politicians decided to settle a dispute by staging a brawl.
The combatants had gathered for what was billed as a conference. It was actually a few days of tax-funded play at the Renaissance Indian Wells Resort & Spa in swanky Palm Springs, Calif.
The event was the annual seminar of the California Contract Cities Association. The gathering included local government officials, their political consultants and a host of vendors who sell services to city municipalities.
Conference activities include networking on the golf course, drinking free booze and seeing which contractor would promise the most to a politician's campaign.
At one point, a dispute erupted. Probably two guys arguing about their cut of the garbage collection contact. One guy wound up on the floor and another had a knot on his head.
Big deal. Frankly, it's embarrassing that politicians are so incompetent they can’t even hold a decent fist fight.
Things used to be different. Back in 44 BC, political opponents of Julius Caesar didn't argue with his policies. They stabbed him to death. That’s conviction.
Even today, opposing parties in England's House of Commons sit on different sides of the chamber.
The carpet between the two groups is marked by a red line. Members are not (officially) allowed to cross the line during debates, supposedly because a Member might then be able to attack an individual on the opposite side.
Since the red line was established when members were allowed to carry weapons into the House, the space between seating galleries was set—and remains—at two sword lengths.
Sensible. Also the basis for the terms “red line” and “crossing the line.”
Things have always been a bit different in America. And much more entertaining. During the 1798 session of the US Congress, Representative Roger Griswold of Connecticut insulted Vermont Representative Matthew Lyon by calling him a coward.
Lyon retaliated by spitting in Griswold's face. Griswold then smacked Lyon with a walking stick. Lyon grabbed a poker out of the fireplace and struck back. The two were finally seated with only their pride damaged.
Things were more interesting in Arkansas in 1837 when John Wilson, Speaker of the Arkansas House of Representatives, got into an argument with Representative J.J. Anthony over who should collect the bounty for killing wolves.
Instead of arguing his position, Wilson stabbed Anthony to death on the chamber floor.
Wilson was charged with murder. A jury returned a verdict of “guilty of excusable homicide.” Wilson walked.
America’s most famous political feud was between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton.
Burr got testy when Hamilton derailed his run for President in 1800. Burr seethed when he was forced to settle for the Vice President spot under Thomas Jefferson.
Burr was dropped from the ticket in 1804 and decided to run for governor of New York. Hamilton’s unflattering public remarks torpedoed Burr’s campaign and the hatred between the two grew.
Rather than complain and whine, Burr challenged Hamilton to a duel, which at the time was considered an effective – if not entirely legal – way of settling disputes.
Burr shot Hamilton to death and went on to endure a miserable existence. Hamilton lives on in a Broadway play.
Hamilton and Burr fought a duel to the death. Today, California politicians slap each other over who gets the biggest kickback from a city's garbage contract.
Politicians have always had disagreements. But in the past, most fought to defend their reputations or principles.
Today, they fight to protect their pocketbooks.
Alex McRae is the author of “There Ain’t No Gentle Cycle on the Washing Machine of Love.” He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org .