Dan Walters

Dan Walters

Dan Walters: California Sen. Rod Wright offers up good sense

Published: Monday, Mar. 25, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 3A
Last Modified: Monday, Mar. 25, 2013 - 6:59 am

Rod Wright may be the most controversial member of the California Legislature – for good reason.

Wright, a Democratic senator who represents an inner city Los Angeles district, has constantly been in and out of ethical hot water during his two stints in the Legislature.

A couple of years ago, the Senate quietly settled – for $120,000 – allegations of sexual harassment leveled against Wright by a former member of his staff, Fahizah Alim, who said Wright maintained an "intolerable" work environment.

Wright is under indictment for perjury and voter fraud, charged with lying about his place of residence when he ran for the Senate in 2008.

He chairs the Senate Governmental Organization Committee, whose innocuous name masks the fact that it deals with horse racing, gambling and liquor, and he has been an adamant supporter for expanded gambling, particularly of the online variety.

During his days in the Assembly, Wright was a strong advocate for men in divorce cases, earning the enmity of feminists – especially when he carried legislation altering the terms of alimony. And on many other matters – such as gun control – Wright often bucks his party's orthodoxy.

But his self-appointed role as Democratic contrarian is in many ways refreshing and valuable to the legislative process, because he brings a level of common sense to many issues that is otherwise lacking in the robotic positions taken by members of both parties.

That quality was on display during a recent Senate budget subcommittee hearing on education issues.

At one point, the subcommittee was discussing how to spend proceeds from Proposition 39, a 2012 ballot measure that is supposed to raise about $1 billion a year by changing how multistate corporations are taxed.

Wright said the Legislature shouldn't be committing the money to energy-savings projects in schools until it knows whether the money will actually materialize, since corporations might change operations to escape the measure's effects – and there's no way to actually pinpoint what revenue results from it.

That's good advice, because the Legislature often makes financial commitments based on assumptions rather than reality.

But Wright really shone as the senators were talking about Gov. Jerry Brown's plan to reconfigure school finance and, among other things, eliminate money now earmarked for vocational education. Wright worried that local officials would favor college prep over job-related classes.

"We're simply disenfranchising damn near 70 percent of the kids who attend high school," Wright opined. And for those who worry that vocational education is "tracking" poor students, he had this pithy retort: "We're just tracking them into prison now."

He's absolutely correct, if politically incorrect.

Call The Bee's Dan Walters, (916) 321-1195. Back columns, www.sacbee.com/walters. Follow him on Twitter @WaltersBee.

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Dan Walters, political columnist

Dan Walters

Dan Walters has been a journalist for more than a half-century, spending all but a few of those years working for California newspapers. At one point in his career, at age 22, he was the nation's youngest daily newspaper editor.

He joined The Sacramento Union's Capitol bureau in 1975, just as Jerry Brown began his first governorship, and later became the Union's Capitol bureau chief. In 1981, Walters began writing the state's only daily newspaper column devoted to California political, economic and social events and, in 1984, he and the column moved to The Sacramento Bee. He has written more than 7,500 columns about California and its politics and his column now appears in dozens of California newspapers.

Email: dwalters@sacbee.com
Phone: 916-321-1195
Twitter: @WaltersBee

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