Update: Ted Lieu says he was among the few legislators in favor of the gift ban but was prevented by the Democratic leadership from discussing or voting on it on May 26. See Jump.
Remember the names Kevin de Leon, Fran Pavley, Curren Price and Ted Lieu among California legislators who helped kill Senate Bill 18, which would have banned their sleazy acceptance of luxury gifts to themselves.
Legislators who helped topedo the bill also include Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and Christine Kehoe, Mimi Walters, Elaine Alquist, Bill Emmerson and Sharon Runner — all on the senate Appropriations Committee that yesterday let the reform bill quietly die.
Steinberg, of Sacramento, has been key thwarter of reform. SB 18 is the fourth gift limitation measure since 2009 to die in the Legislature without a floor vote. Now, legislators are lying about why they killed it:
As reported by the Los Angeles Times:
Alicia Trost, spokeswoman for Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, says majority Democrats are waiting while the watchdog Fair Political Practices Commission considers its own rules on giving or accepting gifts.
Uh, no. They are simply stopping the tough reforms in SB 18.
Los Angeles political sage Dan Schnur, the former boss of the California Fair Political Practices Commission, is so mild-mannered that he very rarely gets a head of steam going. But Schnur was positively spicy with disgust over the manuever to kill SB 18:
“You'd think a Legislature with a single-digit approval rating would be more conscious of the low regard in which the voting public holds them.”
Even more embarrassing, the legislators involved in killing the bill said it would be too costly to “enforce” the rules placed upon them — a mere $204,000.
As the Sacramento Bee explains:
Senate Bill 18 by Sen. Sam Blakeslee, R-San Luis Obispo, would have prohibited lobbyists or the interests employing them from giving elected officials or their family members tickets to sporting events and concerts, gift cards, spa treatments, or golf, skiing or fishing trips.
Under Darrell Steinberg, the California Senate has plummeted to its lowest approval rating in history. Aside from Steinberg's dissembling over why the gift-limitation law was killed, another unsettling response was given by Los Angeles legislator Kevin de Leon.
De Leon had pretensions to higher office. But the more he talks down to the public, the less likely that is. In early May, De Leon made clear that he has no intention of fighting off the pricey incoming gifts.
De Leon withheld his vote on Senate Bill 18, huffing to the Times that if voters don't like his behavior, they should damn well vote him and the rest of the senators and assembly members out of office.
Sure, voters would like to vote a lot of Sacramento politicians out — but the 120 voting districts have been gerrymandered to rig the automatic re-elections of incumbents like De Leon.
“If the voters themselves find it distasteful that their mayor or legislator is feeding at the trough, then I think they should vote their conscience,” De Leon said.
Agreed. Maybe California voters will have a chance to boot people like De Leon out of office after the California Citizens Redistricting Commission does its job this summer.
It's possible that folks like Steinberg, De Leon, Kehoe, Walters and Co. will get drawn right out of their seats. That would mean they would be forced, on Election Day, to actually compete for their positions.
The Commission's redistricting plan — a rough draft — will be released on June 10 and you can read all about it here.
The Citizens Commission is not giving any credence to where these Sacramento incumbents live. Instead of “safe seats,” their seats might become decidedly unsafe.
Like in a real democracy.
The Citizens Redistricting Commission is independent of the California legislature and its politicians, thanks to voter-enacted reforms Proposition 20 and 27.
The Citizen Commission's new maps for California voting districts cannot be killed by a powerful committee in Sacramento, like the Senate Appropriations Committee that killed Senate Bill 18 yesterday.
Last year, California's 120 legislators accepted a gluttonous $520,000 in luxury gifts, tickets, shows and the like.
Just as with their longtime practice of gerrymandering, which was stopped only through voter reform, Sacramento politicians won't voluntarily stop taking gifts from the business honchos and union leaders who influence them.
It will take an outside force to stop the unseemly gift-lavishing in Sacramento. That outside force will probably have to be California voters.
Update: According to Ted Lieu, the Democratic leadership who opposed the SB 18 gift ban measure killed it by not placing it on the agenda, making it impossible for a discussion by the Appropriations Committee, and he isn't happy about it.
His own position from earlier this year is as follows:
“I am one of the few legislators with a recorded vote on the bill to ban gifts, and it was a yes vote. … I support the ban on gifts to legislators for the same reason I declined my state car (before the citizens commission even looked at this issue), declined my gas card, declined to have my office painted when I got elected, declined my salary increase when I was in the Assembly, and voluntarily took a 10 percent pay cut again well before the citizens commission acted.”
Lieu, in explaining why he should not be lumped in with Democratic leaders who opposed the reform, says that once the Democratic leaders quietly hold a bill (in Sacramento jargon, they place it on the “suspense file”) there's nothing the Democratic or Republican elected legislators can do to stop them.
Darrell Steinberg and Christine Kehoe are in the Democratic leadership, not Lieu, and they played the key roles in keeping SB 18 off the agenda, which effectively killed the law.
Lieu emailed me the following: “I respectfully request that you correct the blog post to reflect my actual position on the gift ban bill, which is that I support it and I have a record of supporting it. “
Good for Ted Lieu, who stood up earlier in the year to vote for SB 18.
But what was needed last Thursday, when this bill was quietly killed, were some legislators with cajones to call a press conference when they saw that a key reform bill was not “agendized” on the last possible day it had to be on the agenda — meaning Steinberg and Kehoe had decided to kill it.
Suspense files are supposed to be used to hold bills that cost more than $150,000 so it can be determined if the state can't afford the new law. What a joke, in this case, since the supposed $204,000 to police the legislature would have probably been more than made up by fines on the slimiest legislators for taking gifts.
The longtime abuse of the suspense file system by people like Steinberg and Kehoe doesn't let Lieu, Pavley and the rest off the hook. They need to start speaking up.