Monday, January 2, 2012

Los Angeles Times: Columnist Skelton's legislative resolutions for 2012

Resolutions for a better 2012

The governor, legislators, voters and even journalists could benefit from some New Year's pledges.

January 2, 2012

From Sacramento


By now, everyone should have made a few New Year's resolutions and broken at least half.

So be it. Merely acknowledging a flaw or two is healthy.

The New Year is a good time to reflect and recharge, to look into the mirror for ways to improve. And there's plenty of need for improvement in Sacramento.

So I've conjured up some pledges I'd like to hear people — mainly politicians — make for 2012.

Never mind that I've attempted this in the past and largely been ignored.

Gov. Jerry Brown should resolve to:

•Not be such a stay-at-home. Get around the state more and sell his agenda and charm to local civic groups. Also trudge over to the numerous conferences held by organizations in Sacramento. He'll need to use his soapbox a lot to peddle the tax increase proposal he plans for the November ballot.

•Hold more formal news conferences. He's excellent at it and is a gifted quote machine. Brown needs to put more personal effort into selling himself and his message because the skinflint has slashed the governor's communications staff by more than half.

• Meet minimal goals besides the tax hike: Enact another credible budget without much gimmickry.

Orchestrate a major overhaul of public pensions. Assure that the shifting of state prisoners to local control is funded and doesn't produce a Willie Horton.

• Spend more quality time with fellow Democrats in the Legislature. Brown has vowed to do that, but must keep this resolution. Many Dems felt slighted last year.

• Be more hospitable. Pad those hard, backless wooden benches that visitors — lawmakers, CEOS, reporters — must sit on at the "monastic table" in his much-used Cabinet room. Too cheap to buy pads?

Rent out cushions to people, like at the ballpark. Put a dent in the deficit.

•Finally break the old, annoying habit of eating food — nachos, fries, veggies — off other people's plates.

Brown says he's working on it. His wife, Anne Gust Brown, says he's not working hard enough.

Here's a resolutions list for legislators:

• Hustle during January and February. No more lollygagging because of outdated snail mail rules about providing adequate public notice for bill hearings. Everybody's on the Web these days. Hop to it.

• Pass fewer laws. In all, 889 bills were passed last year (761 became law, 128 were vetoed). Each bill costs roughly $20,000 to process through the Legislature. Somebody please set priorities and focus on real problems.

• Don't pass any spending bill that doesn't identify an honest funding source.

This resolution has absolutely no chance of surviving.

• Do all work in daylight. Legislators resolved to do this in 2011 and mostly stuck to it. They avoided all-nighters with mumbling leaders leaning on sleep-deprived colleagues to pass odorous bills at dawn.

• Stop holding a party caucus every time some legislator wants his hand held, insists on sounding off or isn't sure what the partisan spin is. It's time-wasting and promotes polarization.

• Gag the mouthpieces — the flacks — with their tired, sophomoric, partisan rhetoric. Delete the send key from their keyboards. Require them — especially Republican spinners — to promote what a legislator is for, rather than spew polarizing canned crud about the other side.

• Stop holding so-called news conferences with dozens of lawmakers and special interests crowding the stage for a photo op that doesn't impress anyone. Similarly, a "press conference" on the Capitol steps is not a press conference. It's a lazy waste of time.

•Make the Capitol office phones more caller-friendly. Pull the interns off them. Assign phone-answering to staffers who know the territory and recognize the difference between a lobbyist, a local constituent and a loony.

For phone-answerers:

•When a reporter calls to chat with the boss, don't ask "What do you want to talk about?" and "When is your deadline?" All the lawmaker really needs to know is that The Times or another news outfit may want to put his name in the paper. And the deadline is irrelevant. It's about diminishing returns. But that gets too complicated.

A vow for most Capitol politicians:

•Take yourselves less seriously. Have some fun playing the game, bench the bitterness. But take the state's problems more seriously.

For voters, I like a resolution suggested last year by Long Beach reader Bob Schilling:

•"Let go of the bogus political theory. Take responsibility for the condition of the state and the things we all need to do to reform it. Stop looking for someone to blame and start thinking about the hard work and sacrifice that will be needed to bring the state back to solvency — probably including higher taxes and fewer services."

Resolutions for journalists:

• Focus less on the scratching and clawing of candidates and more on the substance of their policy proposals, if any. Less handicapping of horse races and more probing of program plans.

• Don't let Democratic liberals get away with relabeling themselves "progressives." They're still liberals. Switching labels doesn't change the product. Apparently Democrats have become embarrassed by the L-word. Interesting how Republicans all insist on being called "conservative." Democrats are sounding like wimps.

•Declare a moratorium on the overused words "historic," "crisis" and "reform." Especially the last. Every crackpot idea is not a reform. Not all motion is progress.
That resolution is sure to be quickly broken.

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