Big Daddy

Dear Big Daddy,
So what’s wrong with expunging votes? I thought you guys did it all the time.
Baffled in Bakersfield

Hey Baffled,
Nope, not all the time. Just once in a while. You’ll never find out for sure, though, because the records were expunged.

But I’m with you. The end game is the same whether or not the vote is whacked secretly or publicly and permanently recorded. The only people who care about expungement – I learned that word from a reporter who could barely spell “Unruh” and confused punditry with news gathering – are journalists on the floor sniffing out a story and political opponents looking for a campaign issue that will play in the districts.

The public, the great unobservant public, couldn’t care less. They don’t know just how tough some votes are. This is how sausage is made.

Unlike wild parties and Wall Street, the real business of the California Legislature does not go down on the floor – it happens in the meetings that lead to the floor action. It comes together in the negotiations. That’s where the sweat drips, futures are gambled and plotting reigns supreme.

Offshore oil drilling isn’t the third-rail of California politics – that distinction still belongs to Proposition 13 – but it comes close.  

So when a bunch of lawmakers, confronted with the emergency of a budget shortage, are committed to their leadership to vote for drilling, things get a little dicey. But that’s politics, and you won’t read this in PoliSci 101: The hardest votes to make are the ones you hate, the ones that contradict those impassioned speeches you made in the district railing against drilling, the votes that show up in those grainy TV hits or the slate mailers. You can take comfort though, in that you weren’t alone. Our governor – our pro-environment, green governor – abruptly reversed his anti-drilling stand and was ready to sign the bill if it had gotten out of the houses, which it didn’t. Not hypocrisy, just politics.

But tensions, like oil, float to the top in the Capitol. The Senate was not pleased. There, Democrats put up the votes to pass the damn bill. They didn’t expunge any records. The Senate’s votes waved in the breeze for all to see. I don’t like that.

Not because I’m a secretive guy – although I am, and I make no apologies – but because risks were taken needlessly. Standing the political gaff is one thing. But  taking the heat for no reason is what happened here.

If the spade work had been done correctly, lawmakers in both houses would have known that this bill was DOA. Since the bill was doomed, there was no need to flog votes out of reluctant senators. No need for tensions and hysteria. No need to cloak the votes.

If the deal fell apart on the Assembly floor with last-minute vote switching – well, that’s a job for the speaker. Term-limits have weakened the speakership, so I don’t disparage the present.

But in my tenure, the speaker was kind of like the vice principal, the disciplinarian, at a junior high school. People who don’t vote the way they’re supposed to vote get exiled and fast to tiny offices, find well-funded campaign opponents springing out of nowhere and lose their chairmanships.  

A good spanking is a wonderful thing, and the spanking is the best for those who break their word.

Bring out the paddle.

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