Editorials

This is what arrogance in power looks like at the California Capitol

Since returning for the final month of the legislative session, too many Democrats have displayed why some Californians are concerned about one-party domination of the state Capitol.

Let us count the ways.

Despite hideously long lines at DMV offices, the Democratic-controlled Legislature has let the agency off the hook so far, shielding it from an audit to find out what has gone wrong. By not voting, three Senate Democrats blocked the audit from being approved by a legislative committee.

On that very same day, legislators showered the DMV with more money — $16.6 million to hire 230 more employees. Another $26 million request for 400 workers is under consideration. If an agency gets more resources without more oversight, that’s a recipe for waste or worse.

Then there’s the legislation on special interest money. Last week, Democratic leaders pushed a bill through committee that critics rightly warn will mean more cash flowing into legislative campaigns.

Party caucus leaders in the Senate and Assembly would control the campaign money through political committees that could accept as much as $36,500 from a single donor (far more than the $4,400 cap on contributions to candidates), and also could receive and spend unlimited donations for “independent” expenditures for or against candidates. Because Assembly Bill 84 would put these committees on par with state parties, even the California Democratic party opposes it.

And then there’s the case of Sen. Bill Dodd, a Democrat who represents constituents who lost homes and businesses in last October’s deadly wine country wildfires. He is all over the issue, including as co-chairman of the joint Committee on Wildfire Preparedness and Response and author of Senate Bill 901, which will be the vehicle for any plan the Legislature passes.

PG&E has been lobbying aggressively to change state law to cut its liability for wildfire damages, warning of bankruptcy and threatening huge rate hikes for its customers if it doesn’t get its way.

So some people noticed when Dodd went straight from a committee meeting last week to a re-election fund-raiser that was attended by lobbyists for both sides, including PG&E. The “Pour and Pair” event at Downtown & Vine, a bar across the street from the Capitol, had a “suggested contribution” of $1,500 to $4,400. Some critics even suggested that Dodd rushed witnesses’ testimony to get to the fundraiser on time.

“The conference committee has provided ample time for all parties and the public to be heard and continues to solicit public input,” his office said in a statement. “Out of respect for the public’s time and the need to have discussion on all relevant issues, Sen. Dodd always runs efficient meetings. Any assertion otherwise is ludicrous.”

The fundraiser was scheduled well in advance. Still, it’s not a good look.

Coincidentally, or not, in the midst of this controversy, Dodd took it upon himself to announce Saturday that the utility liability changes sought by PG&E were off the table this session.

In isolation, these incidents might not seem that bad. But taken together, they do suggest arrogance in power. Keep adding examples and who knows? Maybe voters will take some of that power away.

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