PPIC Legislative Reform Conference Coverage UPDATED


PPIC has posted video of the event.

See also George Skelton’s Los Angeles Times column:

It was refreshing to re-inhale whiffs of odorous politics — to hear old lawmakers wax nostalgic about boozing, carousing and secretly cutting deals in smoke-filled rooms.

Refreshing, because much of today’s poll-driven, spin-dependent, politically opportunistic legislating is offensive to the public’s intelligence and unproductive.

The old style of four decades ago, although it often had a smell and wasn’t pretty, actually produced results for the people: a world-class water project, a very affordable university system and smooth highways. Not to mention on-time, honestly balanced state budgets.

I’ll have some commentary later today or tomorrow, but here is a rundown of the coverage of the PPIC conference held yesterday based on their new report by research fellow Eric McGhee entitled “Legislative Reform.” Rose Institute consulting fellow Douglas Johnson takes issue with the report insofar as redistricting is concerned here. As far as the conference itself, of course, the politicians stole the limelight. PPIC may put the video online soon, but see Kevin Yamamura’s Sac Bee article for what happens when you put Willie Brown, Pete Wilson, John Burton, Fabian Nunez and Jim Brulte in the same room to discuss legislative reform.

Dan Weintraub says:

. . . They told some good stories — you can never go wrong when topless dancers and legislators are mentioned in the same breath — and gave each other some guff, but didn’t shed a lot of new light on this very old topic. . . . My sense is that the Legislature’s popularity rises and falls on two things: one, the state of the economy, which affects how people feel about government generally, and two, the public’s perception of whether or not stuff is getting done. It doesn’t really matter that much what is getting done or how well it is getting done, but if the budget is passed on time, big bills are enacted, and lawmakers and the governor are getting along, most people are happy. A tax hike — or maybe benefits for illegal immigrants — are about the only pieces of legislation they could pass that would make them less popular than squabbling over the state’s problems.

Ed Mendel says at the San Diego U-T newsblog that:

Nunez said his initiative, unlike an unsuccessful Burton-backed initiative to extend term limits in 2002 (Proposition 45), is receiving “zero” support from the editorial boards of large newspapers.He said a common criticism is that the initiative is not accompanied by a measure to prevent the Legislature from drawing its own districts, turning the once-a-decade task to reflect population shifts over to an independent commission or the courts.

The speaker said term limits and redistricting are separate issues: “At the end of the day those are issues that have to stand, in my view, on their own feet.”

On their own feet is where both reforms are standing right now, and I’m guessing that at this point most political handicappers in the state are giving the two reforms a greater than 50% chance of falling down.

Nunez also complained about all the bad press he’s been getting—unbelievably, he blames it all on the fact that the newspapers haven’t been doing so well financially. His strategy is interesting: berate the press for being biased, ignorant, and greedy when they don’t agree with you. Right or wrong, I’m not sure when that strategy has ever worked very well.

Also, “Nunez took issue with newspaper coverage again as all five panelists agreed that California has not, as some have contended, become ‘ungovernable’ because of a diverse population mix and other factors.” Can’t imagine who he’d be talking about. Completely unrelated, but Dan Walters has his own post-conference commentary on what the problem really is in Sacramento:

As lively as it was, however, the hour-plus discussion glossed over the chief factor in the Capitol’s evident dysfunction, although Brulte, Brown and Burton indirectly alluded to it – the cultural, economic and even geographic complexity of California itself. Government worked better four decades ago because California was a simpler, more homogeneous place then with more clearly definable priorities. A governmental/political process that requires consensus cannot function effectively when the society it serves has become the most complex on Earth and no longer can muster consensus on any issue…

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