Big Daddy

Big Daddy

Dear Big Daddy,
In the 1960s, you predicted that if we had a full-time Legislature, it would be more professional and less beholden to special interests. Could you also pick some Lotto numbers for me?
–Still waiting in Sacto

Dear Waiting,

Try 13-16-9-12-5-17. They never win, but I have them memorized and I figure they have to come up sometime. Anyway, never use the Quick-Pick. And if you do Lotto at Rodney’s, pick up the yellow-label Guinness.

I’ve made a lot of bad predictions – rock n’ roll is a passing fad, Nixon’s career is over, an actor will never be governor – but I was half-right on the Legislature.

It did become more professional, the members developed amazing policy expertise over time – remember the Silver Haired Fox of the Siskiyous, Randy Collier, on freeways and touchie-feelie John Vasconcellos on social services? Plus, of course, they hired good staffers. Or how about Al Alquist as chair of Senate Finance. That crusty old bomber pilot could boil down bureaucratic jargon into clear English; he used words like bullets.

Capable lawmakers hire capable staffers, and together they do great things. Look at those energy experts who worked for Joe Dunn or Deborah Bowen, or the fiscal experts – two of them who just announced they are leaving to go to the private sector, Brad Williams and Peter Schaafsma. Both are two of the most experienced fiscal hands in the Capitol.

That means they know money. Nobody knows money like I know money, and I’m telling you that these two know money. Knowing money didn’t help me get elected governor, but it did help me get to the treasurer’s office, which was a much better gig, anyway.

When I say I was half-right, I was: The professionalism of the Legislature began its decline after 1990, when voters were snookered by Republicans from Los Angeles and approved term limits.

From that day to this, the Legislature was weakened. I trace every ill in California governance to term limits. Worse than Proposition 13, worse than the two-thirds vote for taxes or the budget, worse than closed, partisan primaries. Great deliberative bodies have long-nourished fiefdoms and powerful committee chairs. Political empires are built on deal-making, manipulation and compromise – attributes of the great days of the Assembly. These days, it’s amateur hour every day. And it takes a whole lot more amateur hours than professional hours to get anything done around here, especially when it comes to a budget.

“Let’s Make a Deal” marks the Capitol at its best.

I say repeal term limits first. I hate to have fairly drawn political boundaries, but if we have to go through with that charade in order to please the public, I say bring it on.

To lawmakers, I say this: Keep the Big Five and let them cut a deal. You can always complain later. Feed stories to your favorite reporters. Avoid good-government groups at all costs. Drink heavily and argue politics late into the night. If you can get to the Capay Valley and see Pete McCloskey once in a while, for God’s sake, do it. Trust me, you do this and all will be right with the world.

Oh, and by the way, polka is the hip new music of the future, scientists will soon discover that Johnny Walker Red is a health food, and I will win “Dancing with the Stars” next year.

Mark my words.

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