Monday, March 26, 2007
IN MY OPINION (Column)
Who’s the Boss?
By JON COUPAL
If you arrived at your office, shop or business and found the locks had been changed, several thoughts would pass through your mind. If you were an employee, you would wonder if this were a not-so-subtle message from your boss that your services were no longer needed. If it was your own business, you would wonder what son-of-a-bleep did this and, most importantly, how would you serve the customers or clients that depend on your services? Similar questions probably went through the minds of three state senators last week when they discovered that, in an immature fit of vengeance, Senate leader Don Perata had ordered capitol staff to change the locks on their offices.
So what were the transgressions of newly-elected Senators Ron Caldron, Gloria Negrete-McLeod and Lou Correa? Were they discovered to be Al-Qaeda operatives in disguise? Heck, no. Their unspeakable act of treason was attending a fundraising dinner put together by the Assembly’s moderate caucus, known as the “Mod Squad,” a small group of Democrats that sometimes supports pro-business legislation.
The insult to voters for this juvenile act goes way beyond the $1,000 dollars or so of taxpayers money it took to bring in General Services (at time and a half because it was a Sunday) to change the locks. No, this cuts to more fundamental problems with the Legislature as an institution.
First, citizens have always wondered just to whom their Sacramento representatives are really accountable. And considering the low esteem in which the public holds the Legislature, most people believe the answer is not “us.” “Boss” Perata’s actions confirm our worst suspicions. Although the locks were changed without warning, changing the locks was a warning: Don’t cross the boss! When legislating was made a full time affair in 1966, lawmakers could cocoon in Sacramento for decades. Life was good. They picked the voters they wanted by designing their own districts and there were no term limits to interrupt their longevity. There was virtually nothing to prevent reelection after reelection except the prison sentences a few received for committing the ultimate sin — getting caught.
In 1990, voters decided they had had enough and approved Proposition 140, limiting politicians to three terms in the Assembly and two in the Senate. But the “hand-crafted” procedure that guaranteed safe districts remained in place.
Still, the average voter hopes that when they have a problem with a state agency or an interest in legislation, at least their own representative will acknowledge their concern. After all, as arrogant as some elected officials have become, they still pay lip service to representing their constituents.
But if we ever needed proof that talk of putting their constituents’ interests first is just a sham, we got it from Don Perata.
When Gray Davis was governor, he famously said the job of the Legislature was to “implement his vision.” Many, both in and out of government, were offended by this expression of unbridled arrogance.
Perata, it is clear, shares this self-important perspective.
Although he is elected by only one fortieth of California residents, he wants total allegiance to his will, rather than having “renegade” lawmakers supporting legislation that benefits their constituents.
So voters need to remember two things. First, you have no real choice because the design of your district determines who will win — that is why control of a Senate or Assembly seat rarely changes from one political party to another. Second your representatives are your representatives in name only. Once elected, they must adhere to the dictates of the political bosses. If not, they will be punished.
Either way, ultimately it is legislators’ constituents who are punished under the current system.
Oh, and did I mention that Perata and other lawmakers are working behind the scenes supporting an effort to extend their terms in office?
Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company