UPDATED: Keith Richman died Friday night at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, according to an extensive obituary by Kevin Modesti in the Los Angeles Daily News. This post is updated throughout.
Dr. Keith Richman, a fascinating mix of Jewish doctor, Republican, fiscal toughie and social moderate/sometimes liberal, came closer than almost anyone in modern political times to nudging the California State Legislature toward sanity.
Sad word that Dr. Richman was near death at UCLA Medical Center spread rapidly through the San Fernando Valley on Friday after the Los Angeles Daily News ran a simple four-paragaph item that day on Page One.
It was not widely known that Richman, a politically brave, likable man of integrity, was fighting brain cancer for a year.
He walked away from a six-year political career representing Assembly District 38 in the Valley and Santa Clarita in 2006, largely in disgust over the hyper-partisan buffoonery he saw in the California State Legislature. Rather than make the usual jump to the state senate after being termed out, he wanted out of the legislature. He tried but failed in a bid for state treasurer.
After he and his Democratic ally and soulmate in Sacramento, equally sensible Assemblyman Joe Canciamilla, (the other Famed Moderate Legislator of the 2000s), left Sacramento, things got much worse up there among the 120 legislators.
We see the extremes in self-obsessed folks like Democratic Assembly Speaker John Perez and GOP lieutenant governor candidate Sam Aanestad. But that doesn't mean Richman failed. Nor will his fight for integrity which has been chonicled elsewhere be forgotten, and here's why :
Many different movements are heading in the direction that Richman and Canciamilla were pushing voters and activists to move five and six years ago.
-- California Forward, a moderate think-tank pushing for sanity in government, is not going away anytime soon.
-- The city of Bell is making people ask whether there truly is representative local government and fair taxation in their own towns.
-- The San Jose Mercury News just published a scorching, Pulitzer Prize-likely series on "How Our Laws in California Are Really Made" that shows how Los Angeles Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes and scores of other California legislators are not really "lawmakers."
In fact, as the Mercury reported in this MUST READ, California State Legislators now act as mere vessels for hundreds and hundreds of laws ghostwritten by special interest groups. Legislators do not write the bills, but put their names on them.
This sleaze was unmasked in mid-July by Mercury News reporter Karen de Sa.
Change is in the wind in California.
Keith Richman and a few others like him in the statehouse in the 2000s laid much of the groundwork for all this with their thoughtful, fair-minded, gutsy debates. They are not forgotten by many of us who were there.
The Daily News story today places far greater emphasis on the fact that Richman was a big advocate of San Fernando Valley secession and spent years demanding that City Hall put the taxes back into Valley communities that it drained out of them.
He and others succeeded in restoring some of that imbalance, which had left Valley roads, infrastructure and city cultural facilities dramatically worse off than much of Los Angeles.
Had citywide voters approved the break-up of Los Angeles into two cities in the dramatic secession vote of November 2002, Richman would have been the Valley mayor. He beat nine other candidates, by a wide margin, to assume the office if voters agreed to create the new SFV city.
But Mayor James Hahn and former Mayor Richard Riordan prevailed, fighting back with a coalition of business, homeowner, labor and other groups to keep the city whole.
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Even so, L.A. was forever changed by Valley secession fever.
The naked fear of the downtown politicians -- their reluctant realization that their chronic arrogance and their decades of shortchanging 1.5 million residents in the far-off Valley could have caused the most embarrassing civic divorce in U.S. history -- led to a passel of reforms to appease the Valley and other furious city residents.
Among them: the Neighborhood Council system.
Thank you Keith Richman, and godspeed.