California Forum

Two houses, one promise: a Capitol with more dignity

The dome of the state Capitol glows in the early evening in Sacramento. The Legislature, rocked for months by accusations of sexual harassment, has been less serene. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)
The dome of the state Capitol glows in the early evening in Sacramento. The Legislature, rocked for months by accusations of sexual harassment, has been less serene. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File) AP

Shakespeare opened “Romeo and Juliet” with the line, “Two households, both alike in dignity.”

It didn’t end well for those two houses.

By contrast, California’s two dignified houses – the Senate and the Assembly – can promise much better things.

We, as the leaders of those two houses, do promise better things. We two are not mortal enemies, unlike the two families of Romeo and Juliet. Working together in the Assembly, we accomplished some important and difficult things, including a landmark water bond that brought together warring interests.

In the past year, our two households, Senate and Assembly, have produced an unprecedented series of successes that are rightly shared as joint efforts: Earned Income Tax Credit expansion, a set of bold housing bills, a transportation-infrastructure bill that will benefit every Californian, broadening access to education from early childhood to California’s celebrated higher-education system.

We’ll say this about that: It isn’t enough.

For one thing, we have to work on the “alike in dignity” part. We have to get our own households in order. Accusations of sexual harassment have hurt both the Senate and the Assembly in the past six months, and forced us to reevaluate our working environments.

We will establish a culture where everyone knows sexual harassment is unacceptable, where every person knows that they have a responsibility to stop it – to stop doing it and stop it when they witness it.

We cannot accept the documented actions of members and staff, or the culture that allowed those actions to go uncorrected for so long. We, as leaders, know it is up to us to set the tone for change.

We will establish a culture where everyone knows sexual harassment is unacceptable, where every person knows that they have a responsibility to stop it – to stop doing it and stop it when they witness it. We have to develop a culture in which reporting is an easy first step, and the last step is to repair damaged relationships, because punishment of perpetrators is not the whole solution.

It is our intention to share that expectation with every Senator and Assemblymember, every staff member and every person who steps inside this historic workplace.

We aim to empower the members of each of our houses to produce the legislation this state needs. We will continue to give support to legislation that shows the potential to build California.

We have helped California amass budget reserves while protecting workers, the poor, immigrants and Californians who have historically been discriminated against for any reason.

As one of us said in her inauguration address: “We must ensure that every person living in California – no matter how they look, who they love or where their parents were born – can climb life’s ladder, live out loud and be whoever they want to be.”

We don’t intend to waste time arguing with those who doubt our approach, because governing well is the best resistance. One more thing must be understood: Unlike the current occupant of the White House, we value truth and expertise. We don’t demand slavish loyalty and we do not intend to build a one-party Legislature.

Both of us have a history of reaching across the aisle to members of the other party. We do so without weakening our progressive commitment to our constituents.

We invite the other party to contribute to solutions and to share in the successes we have when we produce smart new laws. We are seeing these efforts having an effect. Efforts to oppose poverty, promote environmental protections and embrace diversity have been gaining support from members of both parties in both houses.

For us, it’s not about winning a competition. It is about winning gains for the people we represent. The people of California. All of them.

We pledge to keep our eyes on that goal.

Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, is the President Pro Tem of the California Senate. Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood, is Speaker of the California Assembly. Reach them at @toniatkins and @Rendon63rd.

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