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Sep 24, 2003

Who elected shirkers?

The voting hoi polloi rule the hoity-toidy politicians. Here are some rules to put the Legislature on alert.
by Jamie Court
 
The following commentary by Jamie Court, executive director of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, was published in The Sacramento Bee on September 24, 2003. He can be reached at jamie@consumerwatchdog.org
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SANTA MONICA -- The true meaning of the recall will depend not on who wins or whether Gov. Gray Davis prevails, but rather on whether new rules will govern the political class starting the day after the election.

The bipartisan disgust making this extraordinary vote possible is directed at the entire Sacramento establishment, not just at Davis. That's why fewer Californians turn out to vote in each election, and why the Legislature's approval rating (19 percent) is even lower than Davis' (23 percent), according to a Field Poll in July.

Trading in Davis for another political aristocrat would not solve the public's problem any more than would supplanting him with Hollywood royalty.

Here's the fundamental problem: The political class does not empathize with the public because it does not have the same accountability or responsibilities as average working people in the private sector. What would happen to a saleswoman or fast-food employee who scored two out of a possible 10 on a job performance review? Look for them on the unemployment line.

Under Sacramento's golden dome, you don't even lose your taxpayer-funded SUV when you let the singular voice of a cash-rich sponsor outshout what a majority of your constituents want.

Here's a solution: Shape the political game's rules to conform to the standards borne by the hard-working private sector. Make politicians' jobs as transparent, accountable and perilous as everyday life is for the typical California worker.

Candidates and lawmakers -- and if necessary, the voters -- should adopt the following reforms to truly clean house in Sacramento:

- Don't pay "no shows." In no other job in America can you show up, not do your job and still collect a six-figure paycheck. Nonvoting by politicians in attendance at a vote has become a way of helping campaign contributors supposedly without angering the public. In Sacramento, it's called "taking a walk."

Legislators who show up but who don't vote should forfeit that day's pay. Every legislator's nonvoting record should be published in ballot pamphlets. Politicians who vote less than 65 percent of the time should not get paid at all.

- Don't party at work. Politicians spend breakfast, lunch and dinner at fund-raisers during the Legislature's busiest days because lobbyists pay $1,000-per-head tribute to buy politicians' ears and votes. Other California workers do not get paid to party on the boss's time.

All fund-raisers for lawmakers and the governor should be banned during legislative sessions.

- Live by the clock. Some California workers punch time clocks every day to account for their wages. Politicians should do a better job of tracking their money. Financial contributions are only reported daily close to an election, so the public does not see whom politicians are influenced by most of the year.

Contributions should be reported within 24 hours of receiving them -- 365 days per year.

- Report back to the boss. Voters receive little impartial information concerning how their representatives are doing.

Every legislative vote should include an analysis of all supporters and opponents of a bill, and how much those interest groups contributed to any legislator who votes on the legislation. The analysis should be read into the record prior to every committee or floor vote. Twice annually, the state should mail each voter a list of his representative's top 10 contributors and the politician's votes on issues that mattered to the contributors.

- Don't talk behind the boss's back. State politicians' calendars should be public so voters know what company their representatives are keeping. For example, the public should have known during the electricity crisis that top state politicians were flown to Texas to meet with Enron executives, rather than finding out years later.

Every California worker shares her schedule with her boss; so should California's politicians.

Courts have strictly limited political reform efforts in the past, including federal campaign finance reforms, because they have targeted the activities of special interest groups who claim free speech and free association rights under the Constitution. Reforming how politicians conduct themselves, by contrast, is a prerogative of the people who elect them.

The voters' best hope of disinfecting the statehouse is sunshine laws that help politicians grow into workers of the people.




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