Big Daddy

Ask Big Daddy

Hey Big Daddy,


What do you think of the governor appointing all these legislators to plum positions? Why is it that my pay is being cut by 9 percent, while all these other folks are getting new, high-paying jobs with pensions and health benefits? Something doesn’t seem right

-Furloughed in Fresno

Hey Furloughed,

I understand your frustration. And if the term-limits era has taught us anything about politics, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. The only folks who have done better under this administration than former lawmakers are the political consultants.
Gov. Schwarzenegger has called elections as if California were some kind of parliamentary democracy. The failure of the Legislature to act on many key issues, and the need for voters to help untangle the budget mess in Sacramento, has kept the consultants in this town well-funded and well-employed. If I may put my Eisenhower hat on for just a moment, a word to the average Californian: Beware the Initiative-Industrial Complex. Political campaigns, like military campaigns, can be ugly and bloody, but there’s big, big money to be made by a select few.  
But that’s a subject for another column, Furloughed. I believe your question was about another group of folks that always seems to find a way to land on their feet. There were three striking examples of this in recent days that got my attention.
The first was Karen Bass’s decision to bring on former Assemblywoman Patty Berg to do who-knows-what over in the Assembly. I’m sure that she’s providing a valuable service to the struggling men and women of California. And I’m sure it’s just a coincidence that she was an early supporter of the Bass for Speaker Movement. Berg was angling for one of those plum appointments that were locked up by other lawmakers, but couldn’t find a taker. It took the new speaker to provide the former Assemblywoman a soft landing.
And then there’s the case of Sharon Runner, who locked up a $128,000 gig on the Agriculture Labor Relations Board. Funny, I didn’t hear Husband George crowing about wasteful government spending when that particular appointment was announced. I know this is a delicate subject, but hey, Mrs. Runner has been diagnosed with a very serious lung condition, and is on the list for a double lung transplant. She missed most of her final year in office due to the condition. Are we really supposed to believe that she’s going to be an active member of the ALRB?
No. But our human side is allowed to be moved by the gesture. Runner will have top-notch health care, provided by California taxpayers, thanks to the governor’s move.  And you don’t hear Democrats crowing about the appointment, because George Runner’s silence makes their point for them.
We just went through a long budget battle that cut services to the most vulnerable Californians, including the blind, elderly, disabled and mentally ill. Democrats played the empathy card, and were shouted down by Republicans’ didactic fiscal conservatism. Perhaps the case of Sharon Runner will help them put a human face on a few things the next time Democrats pitch Republicans on offering help to those in need.  
The move is not without precedent. Sen. Rod Wright was placed on the Senate payroll in between legislative terms after he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Wright was open about the fact that the $25,000 per year job allowed him to continue to receive health care coverage.
Treasurer Bill Lockyer is in his own category. It was revealed this week that Lockyer receives a $2,000 monthly stipend from a law firm to supplement his $170,000 income as treasurer. A Lockyer spokesman said the gig is “an opportunity for him to pick up a few extra bucks to provide a better standard of living for his family.”
I’ll let you digest that one on your own, gentle reader.

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