Dan Walters

Dan Walters: Pomposity takes hold among legislative leaders

Dan Walters
Dan Walters

In higher education circles, they talk about “grade-creep” – the insidious tendency of some instructors, for whatever reason, to give students higher grades than they deserve, even though it undermines the value of all grades.

In bureaucratic circles, the term is “mission-creep” – the insidious tendency of some officials to expand their authority beyond specified limits, thus bolstering their demands for bigger shares of the financial pie.

In California’s Capitol, one might call it “pomposity-creep” – a recent, albeit insidious, tendency of legislators who are elevated into leadership positions to toot their own horns with increasingly elaborate ceremonial rituals.

Earlier generations of legislative leaders certainly had their faults, but at least they didn’t preen like potentates. When elevated into the speakership of the Assembly, or elected president pro tem of the Senate, they’d take their oaths, perhaps give short speeches of acknowledgment, celebrate with private luncheons and then go to work.

However, over the last decade, those who come to occupy the positions have tended to treat the events as matters of cosmic importance, staging ever more elaborate inaugurations that rival, and sometimes surpass, those of governors.

For some unknown reason, the grandiosity syndrome arose first in the Assembly. And it even extended to those leaving the speakership, usually because of term limits, who were granted the honorific titles of “speaker emeritus.”

Concurrently, the Assembly also began staging elaborate ceremonies marking just about any occasion that its leaders wanted to celebrate, usually honoring some political constituency.

Choirs would sing, color guards would march, flowery speeches would pour forth – and the public’s business would be postponed.

These wastes of time and money contribute to another unsavory syndrome: waiting until the final few days and hours of each year’s legislative session to pass hundreds of bills, many hastily drafted or amended in the dead of night with little or no public notice, with policies that affect millions of lives.

The Senate, which generally takes a more serious attitude toward legislative duties, has been more resistant to such foolishness, but its day apparently has come.

Kevin de León, a Los Angeles senator who will become president pro tem, succeeding Darrell Steinberg, will mark the transition Oct. 15 with “The Inauguration of Kevin de León,” and it won’t even be in the Capitol.

It will be, instead, an evening event in the Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles, sponsored by the Latino Legislative Caucus Foundation and requiring tickets to attend.

De León already has a reputation in the Capitol for being, shall we say, full of himself, and his inaugural will enhance that image even more.

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