Here you come, freshman class, 30-whatever new members, full strut across the West Lawn, Hertzberg diplomas glistening in the noon-day sun, fresh from campaigns, triumphant, sassy and ready for the spoils of war.
At the Capitol steps, the grizzled few of veteran staff, Blackberries in hand, wait to guide you through the thicket of a first term and into legislative glory. You are now “in the zone”–a celebrity, famous and revered, privileged like a minor deity.
Hold that thought.
Before you enter the Building, know that the aforementioned “zone” extends two blocks around the Capitol. Three blocks from the Capitol, nobody cares a whit about you. Most of your constituents back home wouldn’t recognize your name, much less your photo. If they do have a memory of you, it’s linked to the final hit piece dropped by your November opponent. As a symbol of the world you are about to join, “Otto Bade” is more relevant than “Jefferson Smith.”
To be precise, legislative reality is not lifted from a Frank Capra film.
Each of you is about to confront issues of ethics, governance and fiscal responsibility–annoying fragments of public service your campaign consultant probably overlooked in the heat of the moment.
Over the next few months, you will be asked to chew on the following, presented here as they might whomp into your consciousness–randomly and lacking a coherent theme: workers’ compensation, mass-transit routes, rural hospitals, class-size reduction, toll roads, Caltrans’ excess property, high-school exit exams, ERAF, illegal immigration, locomotive emissions, dentists vs. dental hygienists, overseas trade offices, abortion funding, water marketing, maglev trains, redlining, itinerant sports teams, medical marijuana, the homeless mentally ill, charter schools, assault weapons, Proposition 83 implementation, teacher certification, structural deficits, pesticide use, universal preschool, three-strike felonies and exemptions, nursing-home reform, term limits, prison overcrowding, affordable housing, e-waste disposal, water meters, court finance, gaming compacts, genetic seeds, Hetch Hetchy, hydrogen highway, stem-cell oversight, UC student fees, public-employee pensions, earthquake retrofit, foster-care homes, funding for the arts, nurse-patient ratios, the Youth Authority, elder abuse, parolee recidivism, split roll property taxes, parental notification, High Speed Rail Authority, reservation shopping, Cal-Works, LNG, lottery distributions, unitary taxation, the Alameda Corridor extension, beach erosion, doctors vs. podiatrists, redistricting reform, SEQA, local bans on big-box stores, spending priorities for infrastructure bonds, port security, old-growth redwoods, prescription-drug pricing, bankrupt school districts, universal health care, disbursement of school-construction bonds, the state budget, guest-worker programs, sweat shops, tribal sovereignty, post-traumatic stress syndrome, chief’s disease, UC-CSU relations, special districts, initiative reform, big labor vs. wealthy tribes.
And that’s mostly low-hanging fruit.
Layered atop policy considerations are learning curves on administrative and political thingies: staffing a Capitol office (find one pro); staffing a district office; regs on campaign finance; regs on per diem and travel; floor and committee lingo; the media (not your pals); lobbyists (pretend pals); committee assignments (the speaker as pal); committee staff (the chair’s, leadership willing); how the Annex merges; leadership brawls (speakership and pro tem fights, coming to a theater near you); overtures from the other caucus; floor privileges for ex-members; overtures from special interests (rich pretend pals); why two Blackberries; relations with the governor’s office (the pal-i-nator); constituent services; the Zen of Irwin; writing bills; the back stairs; legislative deadlines, and the art of scheduling a fund-raiser; securing district pork; Leg. Counsel; Leg. Analyst; the hair split between ethical and legal behavior; Zeiger’s corollaries to Murphy’s Law; changing a floor vote; gifts; who in Sacramento can be trusted (get a dog); a place to live; where to dine; how to throw a tantrum that avoids Capitol security cameras; committee-hearing protocol; the why and esthetics of the Fence; Assembly “yes-no” buttons; the Bill Room; the semi-secret DMV office; Skelton’s booth; the care and feeding of sergeants; CCPOA, CTA, CMTA; legislative time; the technical distinction between Bob Wilson and Bob White (one registers as a lobbyist, one doesn’t); the Horseshoe; dispensing access; photo ops; the land mine known as 1190; squeezing a Range Rover into a car allowance; junketeering; cigar brands; the importance of office titles; “Big Daddy;” security procedures; members’ elevators; distinguishing Walters, Weintraub and Wiegand.
Get the idea? You are not quite ready to take this world by storm.
If you aren’t totally befuddled a month from now, consider yourself among the chosen.