Ben Adler / Capital Public Radio
Hundreds of California lawmakers and Sacramento politicos partied hard Thursday night at the annual Tribal Bash, the big “welcome back” celebration thrown by Native American tribes at the start of each year's legislative session. But this year, amid the #MeToo movement, organizers made some pretty big changes — even at the very last minute.
Just hours before the event, held at a nightclub just down the street from the state Capitol, complaints came pouring in over the headliner – Oakland rapper Too $hort, who’s been accused of rape. So the event’s sponsors — mostly Native American tribes — pulled the plug, and ate the cost.
Paula Treat, who lobbies for one of the tribes sponsoring the event and signed the We Said Enough letter that first called attention to pervasive sexual harassment in and around the California Capitol, was among those who recommended the cancellation.
“I had heard from many chiefs of staff in the building who said, ‘Do you really think that you should have a rapper who’s had some accusations made against him as your keynote?’” Treat says. “For me, it was like, let’s just take the drama off of this, and maybe he doesn’t perform tonight.”
Particularly at an event that’s been among those described as a magnet for sexual misconduct in the Capitol community.
“Tonight is yet another showing of the steps that we’re making,” said lobbyist Jodi Hicks says, who, like Treat, signed the We Said Enough letter and also represents one of the tribes sponsoring the party.
Some partygoers — including women — were disappointed. Others didn’t mind a bit. And the gospel choir proved to be a hit. After all, as Treat points out, Tribal Bash is a night to relax – and set aside political differences.
“It’s like the first gathering of everybody — kind of back to school day,” she said. “It’s a big deal. And everybody likes to come – the camaraderie, and hopefully, it makes it a more bipartisan place to work in, and that’s one of the reasons it’s really good.”
There were other changes this year, too. Lawmakers didn’t get up and speak. Treat grabbed a mic and told anyone who felt unsafe to find security staff. Anecdotally, the crowd was perhaps a bit smaller this year, though that wasn’t a unanimous opinion.
“I thought it was a little bit more somber than usual,” Treat says. “A little less rowdy — but respectful, and people still having a good time.”
Hicks says there’s nothing wrong with folks who work together having a good time — as long as they behave respectfully. And that, she says, was on everyone’s minds.
“I think everybody coming tonight and having some awareness of the movement that’s happening, and having a conversation about that and still talking amongst friends and kicking off a new legislative session is not a bad thing.”
And, in the end, not a bad rap for the Capitol community.