Saturday, March 29, 2014

3 Down...What's Next?

This is the view of the State Capitol from the windows of the conference room at my office.  I rarely write about work on this blog, mostly because...well, the writing I do here is intended primarily as an escape from the daily chores that come with work.  I'm a lobbyist for a public education organization and I enjoy what I do, but there are just times when I'd rather spend my hours doing something else.

This was an interesting week, with the revelations regarding a third Democratic State Senator in as many months concerning allegations of corruption.  One learns to expect that sort of thing in public life, but the allegations surrounding State Senator Leland Yee really took things to a new level.  Setting up campaign donors with arms dealers, undercover FBI agents, relationships with folks having unlikely monikers like "Shrimp Boy" - if you saw some of this stuff in a movie, you'd laugh out loud at the absurdity of it all. 

Yesterday the State Senate took action to suspend all three members (the other two being Rod Wright and Ron Calderon), and Senate leader Darrell Steinberg announced that in a week, the entire Senate - members and staff - will be required to go through additional ethics training.  But as he himself admitted in his speech on the Senate floor, there aren't a lot of ethics courses that will discuss such things as accepting campaign donations in exchange for an introduction to an illegal arms dealer.  Some things...well, let's just say that you'd like to be able to assume that your elected leaders take office with a rudimentary understanding of what constitutes right and wrong.

So now we have a situation where 3 of the State Senate's 27 Democrats have gone down with allegations of corruption.  And while I agree with Senator Steinberg that the vast majority of those in the Senate are honorable people, I also wonder at what point an elected body forfeits its right to act as a moral authority as it considers legislation that, in some cases, will have significant impacts on the lives of California citizens.  And while it may very well be true that what has happened is nothing more than an historical anomaly, are there unique conditions in place right now that have led to that?  Could the fact that most of California's legislative districts have been gerrymandered well past the point of competitiveness have anything to do with it?  Does holding a 2/3 "supermajority" create the conditions under which absolute power corrupts absolutely?

I don't know the answers to these questions.  But I think they should be openly discussed, in an environment where those raising them can do so without fear of reprisal.

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