The Best Candidate for Assembly Speaker
TO THE MEMBERS OF THE CALIFORNIA ASSEMBLY:
To bring order out of chaos in the Legislature’s lower house, I hereby declare my candidacy for Speaker of the California Assembly.
I am aware that titans have occupied the post since the first legislative session of 1849. Jess Unruh. Willie Brown. Paul Peek. Elwood T. Beatty. Cornelius W. Pendleton and especially that guy from the 1870s with a moustache the size of a squirrel.
While I can’t claim the depth of their legislative experience, I do have a strong working knowledge of most issues — significant and insignificant — pending before the Legislature.
Unlike any other candidate for speaker, I have analyzed public policy issues from the budget to the introduction of prune burgers in school cafeterias for more than 20 years. And helped make them simple and easy to understand — not exactly a claim many legislators can make.
Lest any of my friends in the Legislature or elsewhere think this is just a capricious prank, my candidacy is completely legit:
California’s constitution states quite plainly in Article IV, Section 7 that “each house shall choose its officers and adopt rules for its proceedings.”
Several court cases have upheld this absolute right of the Assembly and the Senate to choose whomever they wants as their officers. Article IV, Section 7 imposes no restriction that the Assembly Speaker must be a member of the lower house.
Indeed, since the time of Speaker Leo Tarcicius McCarthy, 30-some years ago, it has commonly been asserted that the speaker need not be an Assembly member. No one, until now, has had the courage – or qualifications — to convert that assertion a reality.
I want to say to my friends vying for the honor of becoming California’s 67th speaker that my candidacy in no way diminishes my respect for all of you, how ever many of you there are at the moment. Each of you would bring different strengths to the Speakership, I just happen to bring more.
First, I pledge that as Speaker I will never vote on a single piece of legislation. In this age of post-partisanship depression, it seems deeply inappropriate for the presiding office of the house to sully himself by picking a side on weighty policy questions.
You’ve heard ironclad guarantees before, of course. “Read my Lips, No New Taxes.” But my pledge is truly ironclad since it happens to be a felony for anyone other than a duly sworn legislator to vote.
I urge my fellow contenders to show their commitment to post-partisanship and embrace my non-voting pledge.
Further, I pledge not to occupy the swanky Victorian wood-paneled office next to the Assembly chamber where the speaker now is enshrined. I believe its occupancy should rotate among members in recognition of some act of daring or creativity.
I’m still formulating the selection criteria of my proposed Assembly Member of the Month policy initiative but what more apt reward for greatness than to be ensconced for one month beside the intellectual battlefield that is the Assembly floor.
Is there another candidate for speaker who makes this pledge?
The trappings of power are meaningless to me, although a driver would be kinda cool. My staffing needs would also be significantly lower than other contenders.
In addition, as speaker, I will no longer refer to the Assembly as the House of Pain, the Acute Ward or Monkey Island. I will cease telling the joke whose punch line is “Very well then, death by Assembly floor session,” despite it being quite funny.
To use epithets such as those denigrates the deliberative process by which all of you create marvels of policy, whose legacy will shine far beyond your measly six years in the White Sepulcher. Byron Sher has been gone from the house since 2004 but his banana slug bill remains immortal.
One of the key areas in which I would excel is presiding over the house. I have learned the moves of some of the best presiding officers in the Legislature of the past quarter century: Willie Brown, Jack O’Connell, Mike Roos. In the Senate: Bob Beverly, Ralph Dills and, in his own quirky way, John Burton.
These presiding officers brought humor and order to the affairs of the house. When Bob Beverly snarled, “Pass on File,” senators wept with shame for not taking up their bills.
Unlike some of the lesser lights I’ve seen at the rostrum over the years, I am funny, smart and articulate. I will be intimately conversant with every procedural rule. Under my speakership I will never thank the Black African-American Caucus, as one hapless presiding officer did several years ago. You have my word on that.
Much of the language used in floor sessions is neither rooted in custom nor in precedent. It is simply habit born of laziness.
Willie Brown’s refrain, “All those voting who desire to vote, all those voting who desire to vote” has – with respect — become hackneyed. And, in the fast-paced, Internet-fueled world of the New Millennium, it’s just too damn windy.
My first act as speaker will be to jettison that phrase — retire Brown’s number, so to speak – and bring the Assembly into the 21st Century.
Consider the economy and alliterative grace of: “Vote now; it’s time to vote. Vote now; it’s time to vote.” I’m not wedded to the semi-colon. Two complete sentences would be OK, I suppose. Compromise — the hallmark of a good leader.
Much more can be done with the presentation of petitions than simply saying, “There are none.”
Why not use this recurring section of the floor session to champion an agenda, bring home a point.
“Well, frankly, we’re dying to see any petition at all from those indolent swine in the Senate but, at the moment, there ain’t squat in the ol’ Assembly in-box.”
A bit folksy but that’s just a work-in-progress.
Going forward, together, in a bipartisan spirit of cooperation involving on-going negotiations among the stakeholders – at the table – we can create a win-win, much-needed piece of parliamentary reform that would, at the end of the day, truly level the playing field.
There is much need of reform in the area of adjourning in the memory of fallen Californians. I propose a blue-ribbon commission analyze the issue and recommend 17 ways the adjournment-in-the-memory-of delivery system can be streamlined while maintaining the somber dignitude of the act.
Ditto for excused absences and motions and resolutions.
A broken record but what other candidate represents that kind of real reform? I am the Change Agent. (Goo Goo G’Joob).
Among my other pledges, I will ably and honorably represent the lower house on fact-finding missions throughout the world, particularly locales presenting opportunities for extensive four to five hour outdoor environmental study.
While not terribly conversant in any language other than English, I am capable of speaking loud and slow, punctuating sentences with broad – but not intimidating — hand gestures.
Show me another candidate with that capacity.
It feels a bit tawdry but let’s talk squarely about the mother’s milk.
I stand ready to help raise all the money you need for an effective campaign. I don’t require any for myself since I’m not a legislator but I pledge to help you build your election coffers.
One time at the Capitol Press Corps golf tournament, we blew up big posters of some of the most reviled reporters and placed them out on the driving range. Ten bucks for five balls and the chance for cool prizes.
Not too many people nailed me but we raised a lot of dough.
I believe this could lead to very positive result when applied to legislative fund-raising.
It is gratifying that the next speaker may actually be chosen the old fashioned way: member-to-member. Not this cheesy coronation of the incumbent’s heir-apparent stuff.
While not being a member may impact the number of personal opportunities to discuss my candidacy with you individually, I believe any reasoned and objective assessment of my unique talents will lead inevitably to the right choice.
Together we’ll do great things for California!
Writer, former Statehouse Reporter, Struggling Small Business-owner, Gifted Parliamentarian
Filed under: Venting
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