| Tuesday, September 13, 2005
The ugly truth about Sacramento
SACRAMENTO There's a reason for the old cliche that if
you like to eat sausages or have any respect for a nation's
laws, you ought not see either one being made. I've never
toured a slaughterhouse, but I have watched a few legislative
sessions, most recently last week in Sacramento. It was an
ugly sight, watching legislators ram through hundreds of bills
in the final four days before recess.
But the ugliness goes deeper than the messiness of
sausage-making: Those who control the legislative process
(i.e., Sacramento Democrats) seem to have no concept of the
nation's founding principles, such as limited government,
personal responsibility, the rule of law, free enterprise.
Even when they quote the founding fathers, they know only the
words and not the meanings.
Making legislative sausage - the arm-twisting,
compromising, backroom-deal-making, back-stabbing - is not for
the faint of heart. A particularly nasty incident has been
reported in the Sacramento Bee. Earlier this month the state
Senate's dictatorial Appropriations Committee chairwoman,
Democrat Carole Migden of San Francisco, marched over to the
Assembly floor to watch a vote on her bill to add new
regulatory requirements for cosmetic manufacturers.
With the bill one vote shy of passage, she went to
Republican Guy Houston's desk and pushed the "yes" button so
that a vote would be electronically recorded. The normally
mild-mannered Assemblyman Bob Huff, the Diamond Bar Republican
who sits next to Houston, saw this and had to push Migden's
arm away, then undo the vote. Huff told me that Migden's
excuse - that she thought the desk was a Democrat's - is
bogus. She has a reputation for doing this, he said, and even
if it had been a Democrat's desk, a senator has no right to
cast a vote in the Assembly chambers. Assemblyman Todd Spitzer
said Migden might have committed a felony, although he argued
for a reprimand rather than prosecution. Even that's unlikely,
since Midgen is chairwoman of the committee that dispenses the
Even that ugly incident is nothing compared with this
reality: Many Californians surely believe that their
Legislature is busy with the important work of governing this
state of 35 million people and dealing with the serious
economic and management issues facing it. Instead, the
lawmaking process actually is consumed with the current
enthusiasms and whims of the Democratic psyche.
Approximately 400 bills reached the floor of the Assembly
in the final four-day frenzy, with only about 45 of them
authored by Republicans. One bill after another ... tax,
spend, regulate and impose the liberal Democratic social
vision on the state.
There's the plan to raise the state's minimum wage, with
the sponsors oblivious to how such increases actually reduce
the number of lower-paying jobs. There's a proposal mandating
gender-equity in the workplace, which would allow anyone with
a grievance, real or perceived, to sue his or her employer.
Enabling more lawsuits, actually, seems to be a big Democratic
priority. There are the bills to let workers sue their
employers over labor concerns or over environmental concerns.
There are the bills that let consumers sue businesses.
There are the curriculum mandates - e.g., requiring
students to be taught in their native language, in apparent
violation of Proposition 227, or mandating the teaching of
tolerance. There's a bill that would trigger a tax audit of
companies that have labor violations. There are bans on junk
faxes and on certain kinds of car loans. There is a bill that
creates a reparations fund for Mexican-Americans unfairly
repatriated to Mexico decades ago. And don't forget the
attempt to provide driver's licenses to those in the state
illegally, and the endless proposals to add more regulations
on every known activity.
The situation reminds me of "Invasion of the Body
Snatchers." The legislators look normal, and most are
personable, but they have been taken over by space aliens who
believe the most otherworldly things.
Then there are the many innocuous technical bills that
simply are hard to understand. Almost everyone supports these,
although Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, R-Irvine, occasionally
opposes them. DeVore cites historical concerns about creating
a government so big that it saps people's energy and spirit.
That's what's happening in Sacramento. All the technical
changes are needed because this gargantuan government is so
big that it requires endless tinkering.
Much attention has been focused on the gay-marriage bill,
which took ages to debate on the Assembly floor, with nearly
every Democratic supporter, including Santa Ana's Tom Umberg,
giving faux Lincoln speeches filled with self-congratulations
on the historic nature of what they were doing. But most of
the hundreds of bills moved forward without much debate.
Republicans knew there was no point in spending too much time
opposing things that would certainly pass. "It's different
from the days of Gray Davis, because we have a backstop in the
governor," said Spitzer. Republicans, he told me, are trying
to put up as few votes as possible on the bad legislation as a
sign that a bill might be veto bait.
As one crazy Democratic proposal passed the Assembly floor,
some one in the back of the room said out loud: "What's
another veto between friends?" I can only hope the governor
wields that veto pen often.
"It's a waste legislatively," said Assemblyman Van Tran,
R-Garden Grove. "We're not taking up reform issues. ... Ninety
percent of the legislation will be Democratic-inspired. It's
more laws, more regulation, more fees and taxes. ... What's
there to debate?" He points to examples: a bill dealing with
transporting puppies across state lines, an attempt to put
stampings on bullets, a bill limiting the number of pages in
"Anything you do in the last days of the session is not
good," said Senate Republican Leader Dick Ackerman, R-Irvine.
But he jokingly reminds me that what's going on "is a
time-honored tradition!" DeVore calls it "folly on top of
inanity on top of outrage."
And the nightmare I've just described occurred this year
during a relatively calm end of session, since on many issues
legislators and lobbyists were biding their time and
marshalling resources for the special election in November,
and Democrats were holding back on the really crazy stuff lest
voters notice and get angry.
In all this, American constitutional ideals of limited
government, due process, private property and other individual
rights, and economic freedom are abandoned by Democratic state
legislators, who seem rather to have substituted a set of
their own guiding principles:
There is no aspect of your life, no matter how petty or
personal, that should be off-limits from the meddling of
government, outside of sexual matters.
Government holds the solution to nearly every problem;
those problems that cannot be solved by government can be
solved by trial lawyers.
Businesses are evil and out to do harm, and therefore need
more regulation to force them to behave properly.
Individuals cannot be trusted to make wise choices, which
is why the Legislature and the state's bureaucracies need more
money and more power.
Those are ugly truths, but it's better to know the reality
that Californians face in the halls of their government than
to continue holding on to civics-textbook
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