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The Sad State Of California – Why We Are Where We Are, Part 2

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We being the voters of California.

Californians have always had a healthy dose of mistrust of our state politicians, usually with very good reason. Way back when, about twenty years ago, we in California were convinced that the only way to get better, less corrupt, people in office was to limit the amount of time that they could serve in our legislature. We took great offense that so many politicians had become fixtures in the state assembly and senate, that even though they were up for election and could be voted out of office, they never were. Our government was infested with the political cockroach known as the Career Politician, and they were there for life. So, the solution, we figured, was term limits. It sounded like a great solution, lets make sure that these guys can only serve two term in any one office. It works great for the governor and the Presidency, so it must be good for the legislature too. Yet, it is in no small  part one reason why the state is on the financial trouble it’s in.

Back in January, Ezra Klein wrote a Wa Po piece describing the folly of our actions.

Imagine, for instance, that you elect a well-liked local physician’s assistant to the state Assembly. Doesn’t matter the party. Our hypothetical legislator might know a lot about medical care. But she probably knows nothing about the budget. This stuff takes awhile to learn, after all. And remember, she’s not studying budget politics full time: She’s raising money and dealing with constituent service and reading up on other bills and traveling back-and-forth from her district.

So how long till our doctor-legislator really gets the budget, understands the legislative process, and matures into the sort of seasoned assemblywoman we’d want responding to a devastating fiscal crisis? Eight years? Twelve years? More?

Too bad. Six years and she’s out. Banned from the chamber for life, actually. And the problem isn’t just that six years isn’t enough time to understand the issues and the process. It’s also not long enough to build strong relationships across the aisle, particularly given that a lot of other members will have to leave two or four years after she gets there….

And here is a most ominous result:

The product of this verges on the comical. As a California budget-watcher pointed out to me, when you get Arnold Schwarzenegger in a room with the leadership of the Senate and Assembly, Schwarzenegger has the most budget and legislative experience in the room. A guy who was starring in Terminator films as recently as 2003 is now the most seasoned elected official during one of the worst crises California has ever had.

And it gets worse. The poster boy for the support of term limits was none other than Democrat Willie Brown. The guy had been in the legislature forever, and was King speaker of the assembly for fifteen years. He was known as “Ayatollah of the Assembly”! We Wanted Him Out! OK. Done. Say what you will about Brown and his favoritism, at least he knew what he was doing, knew the rules and procedures inside out, and we always had on-time, balanced budgets…. at least in the short and medium term. Here is how one biography described Brown during his tenure as Speaker of the Assembly:

Brown gained a reputation for knowing what was occurring in the state legislature at all times… [He] had a reputation in the Assembly for his ability to manage people. Brown attained the vote of Doris Allen by treating her with the respect she thought she deserved. Republican State Senator Ken Maddy of Fresno noted Brown’s ability to “size up the situation and create, sometimes on the spot, a winning strategy.” According to Hobson, “He was a brilliant day care operator. … He knew exactly how to hold the hand of his Assembly members. He dominated California politics like no other politician in the history of the state”.

Now?

We have this guy, an incompetent affirmative action pick to please the gay lobby who doesn’t even know the state laws concerning budget deadlines, leading the legislature.

My God… What Hath We Wrought?

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PS. Willie Brown recently reflected on some of the reasons why the states finances are in such dire straights:

“The deal used to be that civil servants were paid less than private sector workers in exchange for an understanding that they had job security for life. But we politicians — pushed by our friends in labor — gradually expanded pay and benefits . . . while keeping the job protections and layering on incredibly generous retirement packages.”…

“When I was Speaker I was in charge of passing spending. When I became mayor I was in charge of paying for that spending. It was a wake-up call.”

Maybe we should pass election reform that rescinds term limits in favor of requiring all legislative candidates to have served at least one term as mayor. It’s just a though.