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  • Hector Amezcua /

    The west steps of the Capitol are a popular gathering place for political and other rallies held on a steady basis throughout the year.

  • Hector Amezcua /

    Lobbyists chat outside the Capitol’s Senate chambers last May.

  • Hector Amezcua /

    Kevin Johnson and former Rep. Tom Campbell at Chops in 2009

Five places to watch California politics in action in Sacramento

Published: Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014 - 5:23 pm
Last Modified: Monday, Aug. 25, 2014 - 7:53 pm

Five places to watch California politics in action in Sacramento.

The Assembly and Senate visitor galleries

The third-floor balconies allow visitors a birds-eye view of the Legislature in action during floor sessions, which are typically held on Monday afternoons and Thursday mornings, January through August. Note the color scheme contrast, borrowed from the British Parliament. The Assembly’s green comes from the House of Commons, while the Senate’s hot red is drawn from the House of Lords. Visitors will also see a marked difference in voting. The 80 members of the Assembly vote via push buttons at their desks and the results are recorded on huge scoreboards. The 40-member Senate is old school: A clerk calls each senator’s name in alphabetical order.

Simon’s Café, 1415 16th St., Sacramento

After-hours deal making has expanded to a number of downtown and midtown Sacramento bars and restaurants, but this semi-divey Chinese café on 16th Street between N and O streets has been a favorite of rank-and-file lawmakers, their staffs and hyperbolic political consultants for well over two decades. More than one problem has been hammered out here over Tsingtao beer and Jim Beam poured by proprietor Simon Chan and the brandy-friend chicken turned out by the kitchen. The walls are plastered with photos of political participants, past and present.

West steps of the Capitol

The south and north entrances receive some action, but the west-facing steps of the Capitol building serve as the public stage for dozens of political shows throughout the year. Advocates for one cause or another gather there almost daily during some periods (the spring months in particular), typically around the noon hour on weekdays. It is the site for annual memorial ceremonies for fallen officers or transportation workers. Governors also have delivered their inaugural addresses there. And large groups such as the Tea Party or public employee unions have drawn thousands to daylong rallies.

Capitol hallways

They call them lobbyists, but at the state Capitol in Sacramento, most do their work in the hallways. On the third floor of the Capitol annex – just outside the back door entrances to the Assembly and Senate chambers – the halls are often filled with sharply dressed, paid advocates chatting with colleagues, looking for key legislators to emerge for a conversation, always keeping one eye on the TV monitors airing the debates and the vote casting going on inside. A similar scene plays out on the Annex’s fourth floor outside the doors of two large committee rooms, 4202 and 4203.

Chops, 1117 11th St., Sacramento

The bar and steakhouse 11th and L streets is a 90-second walk from the halls of power – a point not lost on lobbyists looking for a quick lunch or glass of wine with busy lawmakers and their staff. The patio off the front door features a perfect view of the Capitol and is a favorite of professional fundraisers looking to pad their legislator-clients’ campaign accounts. On any given Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday night during the warm-weather months of the legislative session, look for the terrace to be shoulder-to-shoulder with drink-clutching contributors, downing a chardonnay and seeking face time with the elected honoree. And remember, they may have paid as much as $4,100 for the honor.

Call The Bee’s Dan Smith, (916) 321-5249. On Twitter: @WaltersBee.

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