California Forum

Another View: Transparency measure is another tool for special interests

Steven Maviglio
Steven Maviglio

At the recent Governing in Times of Change forum conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California, former state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg recalled the shaping of the 2008 budget agreement that required political courage that California citizens rarely see from their leaders.

After weeks of around-the-clock negotiating, legislative leaders put politics aside and crafted a deal that saved the state from bankruptcy. Had that deal required the three days to sit on the shelf that The Sacramento Bee advocates, Steinberg noted, “it would have never happened.” (“How to support transparency”; Editorials, Nov. 29).

Why not? Because special interests would have launched an aggressive lobbying blitzkrieg to undo the agreement. Both progressive and right-wing activists would have sounded the reveille for their constituencies to descend on the Legislature. And the leaders would likely have been dumped from their leadership posts because they dared to do what was right in the face of special interest opposition.

Advocates of the state’s landmark Fair Housing Act, which was passed in the waning hours of the 1959 legislative session, also say that law – which prohibited discrimination based on race, color, physical handicap or religion – never would have been approved if the bill would have sat around for three days. The intensity against the law, known as the Rumford Act, was so intense that voters went on to repeal that legislation with Proposition 14, only to have the courts later declare their actions unconstitutional.

And the list goes on and on of other historic legislation that took political courage: AB 32, the state’s pioneering climate change law, last year’s water bond and numerous state budgets. All of these laws – ironically, supported by The Bee’s editorial board – were enacted without the 72 hours notice that would have allowed special interests to pry them apart.

To be sure, legislative sausage-making isn’t always pretty. But thanks to the Internet, the sun is shining: citizens can watch the Legislature on the California Channel debate issues day or night. It is a welcome window into how the Legislature works.

So why the need to reduce these proceedings to 15-second attack ads? This provision of the millionaire Charles Munger Jr.’s ballot measure would result in little more than fodder for negative campaigning and do nothing for transparency or improved public policymaking.

Let’s not give special interests any more tools to prevent lawmakers from doing the right thing, whether it be unnecessary delays in enacting legislation or ways to demonize the Legislature. The Munger measure, which is crafted for purely political reasons, is what should not see the light of day.

Steven Maviglio is a Sacramento-based Democratic political strategist who has worked for three Assembly speakers and former Gov. Gray Davis.