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California's legislators should resolve to...

... really work to remedy some of the state's problems. Here are some suggested resolutions to get them started. At the very least, the exercise in self-examination might do some good.

December 28, 2009|George Skelton | Capitol Journal
  • Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger should resolve to spend more time in Sacramento. It's tough to govern California from Fresno, the East Coast or Europe.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger should resolve to spend more time in Sacramento.… (Claus Bech / AFP/Getty Images )

From Sacramento — Everyone should make a New Year's resolution or two. They're vital to the self-improvement process, even if soon discarded.

Resolutions represent at least a brief recognition of personal flaws and needed upgrades.


FOR THE RECORD:
Water bond: The Capitol Journal column by George Skelton in Monday's Section A misstated the amount of a proposed state water bond. The bond would be for $11.1 billion, not $1.1 billion. —

Below are some pledges I'd like to hear Capitol politicians make for 2010.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger should resolve to:

* Spend more time in Sacramento and less in Fresno, on the East Coast or in Europe, favorite destinations where hands-on governing of California is, at best, awkward.

With the state budget perpetually in tatters, the governor needs more quality time with legislators and his own administrators. He seldom hangs in the Capitol more than half the workweek.

* Tighten up the loose ends on two big unfinished projects -- efforts to establish an open primary and enact a $1.1-billion water bond -- before he focuses on any new ventures during his final year in office.

That means raising millions for the open primary measure on the June ballot and ridding the November bond proposal of wasteful, incompatible pork.

* Be consistent, even if it means being consistently flexible. Don't again insist that tax increases are off the table if, deep down, there's some thinking they again will be necessary. That really piques the public.

As for legislators, there's a long list of possible resolutions. I'd suggest they resolve to:

* Do their work in daylight. No more adolescent all-night sessions with mumbling, caffeine-wired leaders forcing flawed legislation down the throats of sleep-deprived colleagues.

The public deserves rested minds from lawmakers acting on its behalf.

* Pass fewer laws. More than 600 will take effect on Jan. 1, if they haven't already. The state should concentrate on enforcing laws already on the books, such as the ban on using hand-held cellphones while driving.

The number of bills passed by the Legislature has been steadily declining, but there's still too much time and money wasted on trivial pursuits.

* Not lollygag through January and February, cooling their heels because of outdated snail mail rules about adequate public notice. Begin hearings immediately.

Of course, legislators hopped to it last February and made budget decisions that ultimately were rejected by voters.

* Shelve the so-called "Big Five" -- the governor and four legislative leaders -- and use the configuration only as a last resort to resolve one or two stubborn issues. The Big Five has evolved over the last decade into a hogging of power and limelight by legislative leaders and a transfer of legislative muscle to the governor.

It used to be that legislative committees would craft major bills, including budgets. The bills then would be massaged and passed by each house. A two-house conference committee would negotiate the final product to be sent to the governor, who'd been quietly influencing the process. Think President Obama and healthcare.

In Sacramento these days, almost all important decisions are monopolized by the Big Five meeting in private. This demeans and offends other legislators. They should resolve to no longer serve as mere ornamental statues.

* Quit using as an excuse for opposing legislation the old bromide that "they didn't give us enough time to read the bill." Come on! Virtually no legislator ever reads an entire bill, which is written in legalese. There are nonpartisan staffs of lawyers and analysts who summarize the contents in English.

Anyway, most major proposals have been kicking around for months, if not years.

* End the habit of calling party caucuses every time some member feels the need to spout off or have his hand held. Lawmakers incessantly convene pivotal floor sessions, then immediately go hide in a caucus to commiserate or conjure up courage.

It squanders time and perpetuates partisanship.

* Take one member of the rival party to lunch at least once a month. Relax and talk about mutual interests, particularly public policy. Try to loosen the partisan gridlock.

* Stop holding so-called press conferences with casts of thousands: lawmakers and special interests crowding the stage for a photo op that they apparently think impresses somebody besides themselves.

It really irks reporters who show up to ask questions, not listen to flak-written spiels.

* Not send out tacky e-mail holiday greetings with fundraising pleas next December. Yes, some politicians actually behaved like children soliciting Santa gifts.

* Be less cowed by liberal public employee unions (for the Democrats), and turn down the volume on right-wing radio (for Republicans).

And journalists should resolve to:

* Focus less during the election year on the scrapping and scratching of candidates and more on the substance of their policy proposals, if any. Ignore hackneyed debate challenges. Identify special-interest bankrollers. Less handicapping of horse races and more probing of promises.

The fighting is simpler and often more interesting to report. But, in the end, the public is affected only by the policy.

* Declare a moratorium on the overused words "reform," "crisis," "emergency" and "historic."

This resolution will quickly be forgotten.

As for myself, I resolve not to write another column like this ever again. Unless I do.

george.skelton@latimes.com

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