Why Isn’t This Man California’s Next Governor?
When he gets up a decent head of rhetoric steam, State Treasurer Bill Lockyer is remarkable to behold.
On October 22, in approximately 15 minutes of testimony before the Senate and Assembly select committees on Improving State Government, the former Attorney General and Senate president pro tempore said he was “Aristotelian” a “First Amendment purist,” informed the committee that “politics is theater for ugly people” and two-thirds of the bills passed by the Assembly are “junk.”
The select committees are considering ways to improve the legislative process. The San Leandro Democrat was to be part of a panel focused on “Pressing Issues, Bipartisanship, Oversight and Strengthening Integrity of the Legislative Process.”
However, Mike Feuer, a Los Angeles Democrat who chairs the Assembly committee, said Lockyer’s schedule didn’t allow and so he would speak on his own.
The committee had trouble stopping him.
A key part of the problem with the government, Lockyer said, is that it is designed not to work.
“Three branches, two houses, checks and balances. Nothing will happen and people will be left alone,” he said, in paraphrasing the thinking of the Founding Fathers.
Shortly after they arrive, legislators should meet with committee staff to educate themselves on policy, Lockyer said.
“We all talk about it but it rarely happens.”
On the differences between the executive branch and the Legislature:
“You’re paid for results, not having an opinion.”
Legislators ought to “look at something.” If carrying a bill about the Employment Development Department, a lawmaker should visit the department and talk to long-time employees. Not the director of the department, Lockyer said, because they’ll “just whine about their budget.”
In wanting to gather such empirical information, Lockyer said he was “very Aristotelian.”
Sen. Mark Wyland, an Escondido Republican, said sitting legislators simply didn’t have enough time to go and personally visit the entities their policy affects.
“You got to make it,” Lockyer said.
Lockyer admitted to having difficulty embracing limits on the amount of legislation that can be introduced because he said he is a “First Amendment purist.”
However, perhaps “graduated” bill limits would be sensible, Lockyer allowed.
“Don’t let the first termers introduce more than five bills,” Lockyer said facetiously. The committee, at least, appeared to believe he was joking.
He urged lawmakers to stop passing “junk,” telling them “Nancy Reagan’s right: Just say “no.’ “
To Democrats, Lockyer said, “In an era where we’re not going to have tax increases, give it up.”
When putting together a budget “truncate the subcommittees that don’t do anything except rubber-stamp the special interests that come before them.”
That, Lockyer said, would “get the real work started sooner.”
He urged that policy committees be more active in crafting trailer bills accompanying the budget because it’s “not fair to have people work hard in policy committee and then have it changed at the last minute.”
Feuer asked how Lockyer specifically would reduce the volume of legislation by, say, 30 percent to 40 percent.
Allowing as to the difficulty of doing so, Lockyer said:
“Bills are my babies. I love every one of them. I don’t want them aborted or anything else.”
Realizing what he just said: “Sorry to get in the middle of another philosophical dispute.”
He described Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s $15 billion of Economic Recovery Bonds as a “bad idea” because the state is using long-term bonds to pay current bills.
“Please don’t do it anymore,” Lockyer said, before stressing how delays in enacting budgets drive up the state’s borrowing costs.
Lockyer volunteered that “it’s impossible for the Legislature to reform the pension system and, if we don’t, it bankrupts the state.”
Lockyer didn’t say specifically but attributed it to who elected the lawmakers, which, at least for Democrats, are largely campaign contributions from public employee unions.
In response to a question about the negative impact of term limits, Lockyer suggested replacing the current process of electing legislators with picking 120 people by lottery and giving them eight year terms after which they would be forever banished from state elected office.
How can lawmakers reform the process? Lockyer was asked.
“You can pass almost anything if you add sufficient punishment for the Legislature.”
Lockyer noted that his favorite place to visit is not the state Capitol.
“I try and stay out of this building. It feels so irrational when I come over here.”
And, as to why California continues to be plagued by a spate of problems:
“Big problems don’t get solved because they’re kind of unsolvable.”
Bruised legislative egos were the only reported injuries.
Prior to Lockyer’s testimony, Feuer asked another speaker in the midst of detailing his views on government reform to wrap up, in the interest of time.
The hearing on reform began 15 minutes after its scheduled start.
Catch Lockyer’s performance on the re-run of the Joint Legislative Hearing on Legislative Reform on the California Channel.
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