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Taking back the Golden State

Editor’s note: Michael Ackley’s columns may include satire and parody based on current events, and thus mix fact with fiction. He assumes informed readers will be able to tell which is which.

Suppose you had a job that paid close to $100,000 a year, came with an expense account that guaranteed you another $142 per day (tax free), provided a large staff at your beck and call, a commodious office with its own reception area, plus the best health insurance available, a generous pension plan that vested in just a couple of years, a car and a personal security force.

Further, suppose you only had to face your bosses’ evaluation every two to four years, and, in the interim, everybody who did business with you treated you as though you were the most important person they ever had met. Suppose many of your “clients” would give you money, just so you could hold on to your position.

Would you work hard to eliminate your job?

And suppose you had 119 colleagues in similar, cushy circumstances. Would you risk their anger by laboring to put them out of work as well?

Shannon Grove is doing just these things. The Bakersfield, Calif., Republican – a first termer – is heading a ballot initiative drive to make the Golden State’s Legislature part-time once again.

Prior to the passage of state Proposition 1A in 1966, California’s Legislature met for a limited time each year, dealing with general matters in odd-numbered years and with budgetary concerns in even-numbered years.

In 1964, California became the most populous state in the union, and lawmakers immediately began to argue the state was too big and too important – meaning they were too big and too important – to operate with a part-time Legislature.

California had to have state senators and assemblymen at the ready to respond to such crises as might arise. This also meant that the carousing boys’ club that occupied Sacramento when the Legislature was in session could abandon the private sector and devote itself full time to prying money out of “special interests” and engaging in other important matters, such as seeing who could hire the most beautiful secretary. (No joke. A stroll through the Capitol in those days made you think you’d wandered into a modeling agency audition.)

Among the arguments for going full-time was that year-round lawmakers would have the time to do their own research, freeing themselves from dependence on “special interest” lobbyists for information. In fact, this remains one of the foundational arguments against going part-time again.

Of course, the Legislature now passes more than 1,000 bills per year, and most lawmakers don’t read any legislation except bills crafted by their staff – with guidance from the special-interest lobbyists they claim to abhor.

Grove told the Sacramento Bee, “Unfortunately, what was sold to voters at the time as an ‘upgrade’ – a full-time, highly paid professional legislature to deal with California’s vast size and economy – has proven to be a terrible decision, reminding us again of the warning that ‘power corrupts.'”

The assemblywoman has teamed with Ted Costa of People’s Advocate, a tax-limitation, smaller-government organization, to put a part-time Legislature initiative on the ballot. Her measure would limit legislative sessions to 90 days per year (except for emergencies), lower legislators’ pay to $1,500 per month and require adoption of two-year budgets. Clearly, this would create a “citizen Legislature” and limit the amount of time lawmakers had to get into mischief.

It isn’t surprising that nobody in the Legislature – Democrat or Republican – has joined Grove on the battlements. After all, virtually the entire gang is composed of career politicians. If you want reasons for their antipathy, repair to the top of this column. (Grove also has earned her colleagues’ enmity by introducing legislation – rapidly killed – to open legislative records to public scrutiny. The last thing the elected leadership wants is a window into its corrupt processes.)

Further, no “big money” has signed on to Grove’s effort. The “special interests” are no more interested than the legislators in altering a system with which they are comfortable and which has served them well for decades.

If you’re interest in learning more about Grove’s initiative, you’ll find the information you need at the Citizen Legislature Initiative website. It’s the kind of intervention that could cure California lawmakers of their addiction to power and perquisite.

You may have gathered from past columns (and this one) that I have a jaundiced view of politicians in general. This would be correct, and I’ve penned the following little poem to sum the matter up:



The moray has a winning smile
that welcomes you to spend a while
within the comfort of his cave,
beneath the tumult of the wave.
And if you join him he just might
insist you stay on for a bite.
His grin may stretch from ear to ear,
but – oh! – that smile is insincere.

The shark, by contrast, wears a scowl
while perpetrating deeds most foul,
clearly displaying his intent
below his wat’ry firmament.
He is inimical to health,
employing neither guile nor stealth,
but victims know, as they sink down,
he met them with an honest frown.

If politics lead you to deal
with frowning shark or smiling eel,
know in the end your preference
will make no bloody difference.