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The Freshmen : New Lawmakers Quickly Find Their Influence Is Weak but the Pressure on Them Is Strong

September 13, 1987|CARL INGRAM and DANIEL M. WEINTRAUB | Times Staff Writers

SACRAMENTO — When Santa Ana Republican Richard E. Longshore won his first term to the state Assembly last year after two failed tries, he quickly prepared to pursue the conservative agenda he had espoused on the campaign trail.

But as the 1987 legislative session drew to a close this last week, the freshman lawmaker's proposals to lengthen sentences for prostitutes and pimps, clamp down on welfare recipients who win the lottery and impose tough new regulations on surrogate mothers were mired down with no hope of passage.

"You have a lot of 'new broom' ideas. You're going to come in and reform the world," Longshore mused as he stood in the Assembly chamber, little more than a spectator during the frenzied final hours of activity. "But you find out that reforming the world takes a little longer than you had thought. You can't sweep it clean in one day."

Combined Power

Such is the destiny of a freshman in the Legislature, where the power of veteran legislators and the inexperience of a newcomer can combine to sack the dreams of even the most passionate idealist.

Men and women who arrive here eager to make their mark on California's laws usually find it difficult at first to make even a dent. And many learn that their family lives suffer in the process.

The Assembly had 12 new members this year and the Senate had three, including one who had already served in the lower house. Interviews with most of them revealed a freshman class surprised at the lack of time to contemplate serious issues and chagrined at the lack of control over their own fates.

Pressure-Packed Days

The pressure-packed final days of the legislative session served to underscore for many a degree of bewilderment that all had been told about but few actually experienced: lobbyists pleading for a last-minute vote, scores of heavily amended measures being approved when even their sponsors occasionally conceded that they didn't know what the bill would do, and threatening admonishments from party leaders to stay in line.

"I'd heard about the last hours of the session, but I did not appreciate the rapidity with which we move through bills," said Assemblywoman Jackie Speier (D-San Francisco), widely regarded as a rising star in the 1987 freshman crop. "Significant bills may come up at 11 p.m., midnight or 1 a.m. Some of the most controversial legislation receives an insignificant amount of debate."

For guidance, Speier said she relied heavily on her seatmate, Assemblyman Phillip Isenberg (D-Sacramento), who has a reputation for doing his homework and is mentioned as a possible future Assembly Speaker.

Before freshman Assemblyman Terry B. Friedman (D-Tarzana) arrived in Sacramento, he imagined himself sending friends and associates copies of proposed legislation and asking for their thoughts. In practice, he found it possible only if the person whose advice he was seeking was equipped to receive an instantly transmitted copy of the bill.

"I would have thought there'd be more time to consider matters," Friedman groused.

Issues Are Clear

In contrast, freshman Sen. Quentin L. Kopp--the Legislature's only member who declines to declare a party affiliation--insists that most of the issues are easy to understand.

The sardonic Kopp, a veteran former San Francisco supervisor, said he feared at first that he would be unable to keep up on the issues. But Kopp said that concern diminished "because much of it requires only an instant to understand. Ninety percent of the legislation is totally insignificant."

The extraordinarily long hours of the final weeks put heavy stress on family lives, including Speier's. She is a newlywed whose husband, Steve, is an emergency room surgeon in San Francisco who works 24-hour shifts and also attends the University of California, Berkeley.

The other day, Speier carefully calculated her time and slipped out of Sacramento aboard a 5 p.m. bus for the nearly two-hour ride to San Francisco to visit her husband. Next morning, it was back to Sacramento on a 7 a.m. bus.

Scheduling Problems

"Scheduling doesn't work out too well," said Friedman, whose wife teaches kindergarten. "Our last day of session was Friday and her first day back at school is three days later on Monday."

The Senate's newest member, Cecil Green (D-Norwalk), said he and his wife, Mary, may have solved the problem. She worked in his Capitol office as a volunteer, coordinating his schedule and dealing with constituents. "She's a real good asset," Green said.

Several of the newcomers admitted to being stymied by legislative rules and etiquette that are sometimes hard to fathom.

Assemblyman Tim Leslie (R-Carmichael), a former local government lobbyist, tells of the time he was the swing vote in the Health Committee on a bill involving blood dialysis machines. Forced by a schedule change to be in another committee at the same time, Leslie arrived late and recorded his vote in favor of the item by handing a note to the Health Committee secretary.

Doesn't Work That Way

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