Jerome Horton should have one two-word response to actor Rob Lowe and his wife, Sheryl Berkoff: I’m sorry.
In a year when politicians seem to think crass is cool, Horton embarrassed himself and the constitutional office he holds as an elected Board of Equalization member by asking Lowe and Berkoff in a private meeting whether they had “Jewed down” contractors who had built their house.
In an email reported first by Bloomberg BNA, Lowe explained: “Appalled, we asked him to explain his comment. He doubled down, saying, ‘C’mon. You know what I’m saying. Did you Jew them down? You must have.’ ”
The Los Angeles-area Democrat invoked a term that is at once an example of casual anti-Semitism and reflective of ancient prejudices toward one ethnic group. Horton should have known better, having spent 20 years in public life, first as an Inglewood City Council member and later in the Assembly. Clearly, he doesn’t.
In a response reported by The Sacramento Bee’s Jon Ortiz, Horton accused Lowe and his wife of misrepresenting facts. “I am a lifetime supporter of Israel and related issues,” Horton said. Whether that’s true or not, it hardly excuses his insensitivity, lack of apology and general cluelessness.
Lowe had been involved in a dispute over income taxes and appealed to the Board of Equalization, which collects $60 billion a year in various taxes and acts as a tax court. Over Horton’s opposition, the board voted 3-2 last week to lower the tax that the Lowe family owes on the sale of a $25 million Montecito home by at least $514,000.
Scarcely noticed beyond its insular world, the Board of Equalization is antiquated and ripe for an overhaul. In the 1990s, Gov. Pete Wilson tried to consolidate its functions with the Franchise Tax Board. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger offered a similar suggestion.
That won’t happen so long as the Legislature has a say. Termed-out lawmakers from both parties find it to be a soft landing spot. Clearly, stupidity is no object. The sinecure comes with an annual salary of $137,093, plus benefits. An army of consultants, accountants, lobbyists and tax attorneys makes bank by representing taxpayers seeking tax breaks.
Though the board is obscure, policymakers are not invisible. Their words and deeds get noticed, especially when they insult people with some clout. The Lowes were exercising their right under state law. Too bad the state’s representative had such a crass response.