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CAPITOL JOURNAL

Sgt. Pringle's Lonely Hearts Club Band

February 08, 1996|GEORGE SKELTON

SACRAMENTO — When the American revolutionaries won their decisive battle at Yorktown in 1781, bands struck up the prophetic notes of "The World Turned Upside Down." After Assembly Republicans firmly established their legislative dominance last week, they brought out a boombox and played the Beatles' "Revolution."

Not that we should be identifying "the Republican revolution" with the founding of our republic--or associating GOP Speaker Curt Pringle with Gen. George Washington and Democratic leader Richard Katz with Lord Cornwallis of the redcoats.

But a few fifes and drums playing "The World Turned Upside Down" as Republicans marched their bills over to the Senate would have been apropos after three frenzied days of pounding Democrats. Power unmistakably had flip-flopped.

Democrats could have conditionally surrendered a year ago and cut a better deal. But, led by then-Speaker Willie Brown, they recruited GOP turncoats and clung to power until Brown exited to become San Francisco's mayor. Then Republicans overran their enemy.

The GOP shredded a power-sharing arrangement imposed last year by Democrats and seized control of every committee, much as Brown had during his long reign.

Republicans grabbed most of the money, also as Brown had before they won a one-vote majority in the 1994 elections. Last year, the parties split 50-50 the roughly $20 million for committees and caucuses. Republicans now control 74%. The jobs of nearly 200 Democratic staffers are in jeopardy.

It's what Democrats had dreaded and many Republicans had demanded, and become known in the local idiom as "scorched earth."

*

"The Beatles wouldn't have had anything to do with these bozos," Democratic Assemblywoman Diane Martinez of Monterey Park told a reporter as Republicans gyrated on the chamber floor and clapped to the beat of "Revolution."

That may have been especially true of the late John Lennon, who co-wrote and sang "Revolution." He was gunned down on a New York street by a fan with a short-barreled revolver.

Republicans officially listed as one of their "top bills" a measure, passed with just one vote to spare, that would make it easier for citizens to pack concealed sidearms around town and into buildings, including bars. Law enforcement generally opposes the bill, but on this one Republicans sided with the gun lobby.

"Every cop--including [GOP Atty. Gen.] Dan Lungren--is saying don't put more guns on the street and these guys are out arming everybody to the teeth," says Democrat Katz.

Republicans got perturbed because the news media, they asserted, was not emphasizing the passage of bills they cared most about: corporate tax cuts, repeal of overtime after eight-hour shifts, law suit "reforms," no-fault auto insurance and other "business climate" proposals. Rather, the media--especially TV--were playing up bills to repeal the motorcycle helmet law, restore classroom spankings and allow paddling of graffiti vandals.

GOP leaders realized that helmets and paddling were on the verge of becoming their equivalent of President Clinton's "gays in the military." That is, after assuming power the first thing they do is push controversial policy that they neither campaigned on, nor was demanded by the public.

"We're getting killed," former Assembly GOP leader Jim Brulte of Rancho Cucamonga admonished colleagues at a caucus meeting. "We've got a great agenda and people are talking about helmets and paddling."

The helmet bill already had been passed to the Senate. But Republicans--to the Democrats' private chagrin--then went out and buried the two paddling bills to avoid embarrassment.

*

Republicans and Democrats alike consider the overtime bill a defining issue. Authored by Assemblyman Fred Aguiar (R-Chino), it would repeal the state requirement that employers pay their nonunion workers overtime after eight hours. There still would be overtime after a 40-hour week.

Katz says this bill highlights a "dividing line" between the two parties. "Under Republicans, working folks get hammered while the superwealthy get tax breaks," he contends.

Speaker Pringle, however, insists the eight-hour law is a classic example of how California--and Democrats--"are out of touch with a changing society." Forty-six other states, he says, give employers and their workers the flexibility to establish 10-hour shifts, then have three days off.

If the "revolution" is kept alive, it will be because of bills like this one--not schemes to paddle, chuck helmets or tote guns.

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