When asked Thursday whether there is a serious split between Gov. Gray Davis and Democratic leaders of the Legislature, Senate President Pro Tem John Burton launched into a step-by-step recitation of how a bill becomes law--a verbal version of the chart that appears in every student's political science primer. Davis knows the process well, of course, from his quarter-century in Sacramento. This was Burton's way of telling the governor's office to stop meddling with the legislative process.
Burton's point is valid. As the Legislature rushed to meet bill-approval deadlines this week, Davis or his aides asked committee chairmen to delay action on a variety of measures, including some on health care reform. The aides said Davis wanted to appoint a task force to study the health issue during the monthlong summer legislative recess, which began Thursday and will end Aug. 16. The request prompted Burton (D-San Francisco) and Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa (D-Los Angeles) to issue a curt memo to committee chairs telling them to "pay absolutely no attention" to any further requests from the governor's office unless they are cleared first with the Legislature's leadership.
The administration's actions were inappropriate on several levels. It was poor judgment, at best, to contact committee chairs without touching base with Burton and Villaraigosa and the bills' authors. Davis, who has said that health care reform is a priority, should have outlined his own plan months ago; that action shouldn't come after the Legislature has spent considerable effort to develop and refine its own measures.
And even if there was no connection, it was unseemly for Davis to intervene on the health bills right after pulling in $100,000 in campaign contributions at a reception held by health industry executives.
The Legislature is not blameless. With a Democratic governor in office for the first time in 16 years, Democrats are pushing through bills that were vetoed by Davis' predecessors. Some of the bills are poorly drafted. Others promote poor public policy. But it also appears that Davis is rushing to buff his image as a business-friendly moderate against a tide of progressive legislation.
Burton downplayed the seriousness of any rift. As for the governor's office, it's time to brush up on Poly Sci 101. All right, class, the Constitution provides for a separation of powers. The Legislature passes bills. Then the governor gets his chance to act. Repeat many times between now and Aug. 16.