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'Getting Stomped by Flawed System'

February 19, 1988

Gloria Molina's piece on the recent turmoil in the state Assembly ("Getting Stomped by a Flawed System," Op-Ed Page, Jan. 28) misdiagnoses the situation. Molina portrays the discipline of the so-called "Gang of Five" as an exercise in power politics by Speaker Willie Brown. In fact, the Speaker took action only at the urging of the Democratic Caucus, i.e., the other Democratic Assembly members, who were tired of being undercut by these five.

The irony of the situation is that the Gang of Five had, until recently, been part of the Speaker's leadership team occupying important committee slots and caucus posts. Despite their positions, these five consistently went around caucus positions in order to cut side deals advantageous to themselves.

Now that the Gang of Five has been called on the carpet over their wheeling-dealing, they are trying to paint themselves as prisoners of conscience.

Contrary to Molina's view, the Speaker is not an all-powerful being. The Speaker is elected by and is a creature of the caucus. The Speaker cannot afford to alienate too many of his colleagues or he will soon be an ex-Speaker, a rule for which there are plenty of examples in California history. A Legislature that consisted entirely of "champions for public policy," as Molina envisioned, would never get anything done.

I am not sure that Molina, who is no longer in the Assembly, ever understood the need to sometimes sublimate your own personal agenda in order to help your party. While it is occasionally necessary to stand apart, to draw a line, one should not hurt their colleagues unnecessarily.

Like Molina, I have felt the wrath of the Speaker and the caucus, but I did so with my eyes open knowing the consequences of my actions. What troubled me was Molina's characterization of herself as a victim of "the system." Molina used the state Assembly as a stepping stone to the L.A. City Council; she was not the victim, but the beneficiary of the system.

Molina suggests that the Assembly should be changed, but doesn't say how. Is the state Senate with a more decentralized system, head and shoulders above the Assembly? Is Congress' seniority system the sort we should transplant to the California Legislature?

The system isn't perfect, no system is. The system in the Assembly requires leadership. Without leadership we would merely be a noisy debating club.



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