Dear Big Daddy,
Who do you think will replace “the most powerful speaker of the post-Willie Brown term limits era”?
This might surprise you, but I’m dead last in my Fantasy Legislator league (no, that’s not a Nicole Parra reference, though she’s a great draft pick, for reasons I’ll explain later). In my last match I got trounced by Helen the elevator lady. You should have seen her victory dance. I never knew she could moonwalk.
I may be to Sacramento as Elvis was to Vegas, but I made the same greenhorn mistakes you’d expect from an Assembly fellow who just joined the league to get at the free fajitas at the draft party. I picked some big names who do gaudy legislation that doesn’t go anywhere. I forgot how points are actually awarded. Sure, you get to score extra if your starting Senator or Assemblymember pushes through major policy changes, but how often does that happen? The bread and butter of the game are things like cleanup bills and sneaky amendments. And it’s important to choose a good starting defense — usually a Mod Caucus Dem with a history of killing legislation with committee votes and well-timed goal-line abstentions (see: Parra).
If the game were being played in my day, my approach would have worked. Back then, California was a lawless place, in the sense of having a lot fewer laws, and we rushed to fill that void. You could go for the big score. Of course, in my day I would have gone in the first pick and you might as well have ended the season right then.
A lot of things were different in my day. You wouldn’t have seen all this speakership jockeying out in public. That would be like trying to get a date with a girl by asking her dad — he might say yes, but she’ll say no just because you did that. And that little bit Chuck Calderon did by sending flowers to all those Assemblywomen: right idea, wrong execution. Rather than trying to turn on the charm when I obviously just wanted to squeeze into some speaker-pants, I kept the real powers that be — the secretaries — well stocked with bouquets throughout the year.
No, back in my day, running for speaker was a slow backroom seduction of dozens of people at once. Sort of like my actual love life, so I had a bit of an advantage.
Now here I have to point out that being “the most powerful speaker of the post Willie Brown term limits era” is kind of like being the burliest linebacker on your Pop Warner team. Just knowing that your power will expire by a certain date makes people more likely to defy you. Add to that the fact that the speaker today is basically just majority leader for his caucus. You’re free to strike off in whatever bold policy direction everyone agrees on.
Now add to that a budget deficit the equivalent of all the money contained in a million Monopoly sets (not even Liz Hill brings you that kind of snappy analysis), and you have to wonder what kind of stamp the new speaker will be able to leave. Add to that a two-thirds vote requirement that keeps farm country relevant, and you’re in a fiscal straightjacket so tight it’s kinda kinky. Get ready for press releases proclaiming, “Speaker protects mental health funding by giving $5 to that guy on the corner who’s always yelling about little green robots eating his brain, yeah, the one with the underwear on his head, that guy.”
And there’s one other little thing to consider. It’s pretty well established that much of the country and most of the world are kind of sitting around, twiddling their thumbs until next Jan. 20, when the U.S. of A gets a real president for the first time since Fabian Núñez was the political director of the L.A. Labor Fed. While I would never compare our gov to that surrealist —even “Pumping Iron” Arnie would make a better president — there is one similarity. Come 2011, California will likely be one big freewheelin’, health care reformin’, redistrictin’ and yes, gay marryin’ party. But even if the crushing existentialism ain’t laid on quite so thick, if you’re a California Dem, until then you’re still waiting for Godot, just like everybody else.
So you’re asking, which greater Los Angeles mainstream liberal Democrat will become speaker? In the immortal words of one Jesse Marvin Unruh, “Who knows, who cares, why bother?”