Dan Morain

Mixing ice cream, martinis and votes

Assembly Republican Leader Kristin Olsen rides an electric skateboard outside Chops in Sacramento last year.
Assembly Republican Leader Kristin Olsen rides an electric skateboard outside Chops in Sacramento last year. Sacramento Bee file

Sen. Steve Glazer sipped a glass of red wine and caught up with an old friend the other evening at one of the new K Street watering holes.

Glazer undoubtedly wanted to talk to his buddy and may have wanted that drink, though he didn’t empty the glass. But at this time of year when legislators vote on hundreds of bills and then rush to after-hours events, there aren’t many coincidences.

Glazer purposely picked the place, Brasserie Capitale, because another bar, Café Á Côté, is directly across the lobby of what Capitol denizens call the Ban Roll-On Building. There, Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, was raising money for her next campaign, against Glazer.

“You’ve got to have a little fun,” Glazer said.

Glazer, D-Orinda, defeated Bonilla in a brutal and ugly campaign that mercifully ended in May and cost $11.7 million. If it had been one of the historically expensive 2014 congressional races, the Senate District 7 campaign would have been the nation’s second most costly.

That was Round One. Bonilla is preparing for a rematch against Glazer in 2016. Politicians look for an edge, and Bonilla may have found one: Glazer is abiding by the Senate rule that bars him and the 39 other senators from raising money during the final four weeks of the legislative session.

Political fundraising always leaves a stench, but it’s particularly gamey at the ends of legislative sessions when legislators decide the fate of hundreds of bills that affect interests and individuals who fund campaigns.

Hoping to restore some small measure of public confidence, senators imposed the end-of-session fundraising blackout last year after the feds indicted two senators on corruption charges, and the Los Angeles district attorney won a conviction of a third for failing to reside in the district he represented.

Glazer noted that he, like other legislators, spent the day voting on two dozen or so bills and will vote on hundreds more by the close of the session two weeks from now. Sure, the Senate rule is symbolic. But it “creates a little separation” between voting and raising money. That’s not a bad thing.

This time of year, I am focused on bills. But fundamentally, it is unfair that one house would have the policy and members of the other house don’t.

Sen. Cathleen Galgiani

The Assembly, which sets its own rules, didn’t follow the Senate’s lead. And so the restaurants and bars around the Capitol are busy with the end-of-session political pub crawl.

“If she wants to be a member of the Senate, why would she not be more deferential to the Senate rules?” Glazer asked.

A block away, Assembly Republican Leader Kristin Olsen mingled with lobbyists on Chops’ patio at what her invitation said would be “an Ice Cream Social. … Families encouraged and welcome to attend!”

As Assembly Republican leader, Olsen has more clout than most Republicans, and so the turnout was good, though I suspect most of the ice cream melted. As I enjoyed an adult beverage from a safe distance, I saw far more Chardonnay and martinis than sundaes being consumed.

Lobbyists clearly have a sense of decorum. There were no kids. The Third House knows better than most that dragging a child to a politician’s fundraiser should be grounds for a visit from Child Protective Services.

Olsen’s fundraising invitation said she intends to run for a Senate seat that will open in 2018 and is held by Tom Berryhill, who will be termed out. But Olsen, a former Modesto city councilwoman, has moved to Riverbank, in the district occupied by Sen. Cathleen Galgiani, a Democrat who is up for re-election in 2016, and expects a challenge from Olsen.

“This time of year, I am focused on bills,” said Galgiani, who, like Glazer, is abiding by the Senate fundraising moratorium. “But fundamentally, it is unfair that one house would have the policy and members of the other house don’t.”

Olsen issued a statement saying she is abiding by rules of the Assembly and Fair Political Practices Commission. Bonilla didn’t get back to me. She must’ve been too busy casting votes and raising money.

As he turned to leave the Ban Roll-On Building, Glazer cast a quick glance over his shoulder and surveyed the handful of lobbyists who showed up to Bonilla’s event.

“Not a very good turnout,” he said.

Lobbyists understand that this is a small town. People notice who goes where. The ones who showed up at Café Á Côté might ingratiate themselves with Bonilla. But she will be termed out of the Assembly in 2016, and it’s tough to unseat an incumbent. That means Glazer could have a vote for many years to come.

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