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Spat spillover

When a Democratic squabble in Sacramento affects the rest of the state, it's time for a timeout.

September 07, 2007

It became clear early this year that Mark Leno, an assemblyman from San Francisco, would challenge Carole Migden, his state Senate counterpart, in her bid for reelection. To which the appropriate reaction in Los Angeles was: big deal.

Those San Francisco Democrats have their own exotic and somewhat offbeat way of doing things. Let them fight it out, and political observers in Southern California could watch with detached amusement.

It's no longer amusing. A Leno bill to ban toxic chemicals from upholstery died in the Senate, one of an unusually large number of Leno bills also going nowhere. That's apparently what he gets for having the temerity to challenge a sitting member of the Senate.

Meanwhile, more Senate bills than usual, including a couple of Migden's, are being hung up in the Assembly. Retaliation breeding further retaliation? There are denials all around -- followed by angry mutterings about who started it and about getting even. Bills are always held hostage at the end of the legislative session, but it's worse this year. It may be the Leno-Migden race, or it may be the still-simmering acrimony between Democrats in the Assembly and those in the Senate over their different paths during the recently ended budget debacle.

Either way, Democrats are demonstrating, in time-honored fashion, their ability to undermine any progress or scuttle any political advantage with personal conflict, leadership struggles and other infighting. That's their business, of course, but it becomes everyone's business when lawmakers kill worthy bills out of spite. Such childishness doesn't help their case with Californians, who demand solid reasons to put more faith in the Legislature, back off on crippling initiatives and loosen term limits.

Leno has every right to challenge Migden. It can only be good for voters to be able to select from more than one candidate instead of simply rubber-stamping an incumbent. Migden has every right to question Leno's effectiveness. But neither politician has any right to further their feud by snuffing out bills to improve the health and safety of Californians.

It's late, but it's not too late. Lawmakers have until Tuesday to release their hostage bills and pass them, or kill them, on their merits. If they think no one outside the Capitol is watching, they're kidding themselves.

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