Surprise, the Legislature is out of touch yet again

Daily Sundial

An event little noticed among the coverage of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina was the passage of a bill by the California Senate legalizing gay marriage. The Senate’s vote on such a law once again highlights the complete disconnect between the priorities of the people of California and our legislators’ own agendas.

That our legislators live in a world of their own is obvious. Year after year, severe budget crises have hit this state, and our elected representatives have done little except to spend more money and pass bills that have little importance to the many pressing issues confronting our state.

More than 1,700 bills have been introduced in the California Assembly alone, with many being frivolous expenditures of limited state money and resources.

AB 1730 would require registration of all pesticide products sold in the state. AB 1487 proposes to spend $150,000 to study the economic impact of off-road vehicles on local economies. AB 1389 increases the fines for discarding cigarette butts.

We also cannot forget the various resolutions passed by that august legislative body. Assembly Joint Resolution 15 calls on the U.S. Congress to extend the Mag Instrument flashlight patent for two more years. Assembly Concurrent Resolution 21 declares May 2005 as Watershed Awareness Month. This is not to be confused with California Wetlands Month, also established in May by ACR 66.

While demanding a timetable for a withdraw from Iraq (AJR 29) may be important in the minds of our legislators, there are far more critical issues that need to be addressed. Pension reform for public employees is desperately needed, as that sector of the budget is rapidly eating up larger and larger portions of the General Fund. Tax reform needs to be adopted to wean the state off of our highly progressive income tax, which causes huge swings in the tax revenues.

Yet the men and women who populate both houses of the state Legislature remain blissfully content to avoid making difficult decisions and instead choose to pass useless resolutions and spend like drunken profligates. Such behavior clearly illustrates that many of our representatives are unconcerned with the consequences of failing to deal with political realities.

This attitude manifests itself in the vote on gay marriage. When Proposition 22, which prohibited California from recognizing gay marriages in other states, was put before the voters of California in 2000, they approved it by a whopping 61.4 percent. Such a large margin of victory would normally be regarded as a mandate against gay marriage by any sensible politician.

Yet the Senate last Thursday voted to create gay marriage with the same margin by which it was defeated in 2000. Legislators who had to look to their reelection would shudder at such bold defiance of the popular will. Our elected officials however, obviously do not fear angering voters.

And with a 98 percent incumbency rate, why should they? Nearly all of the legislators who ran for office last year were reelected.

There are a number of reasons for this. It is largely due to the gerrymandered districts which the Legislature has drawn. These districts are specifically designed to be safe for incumbents so that only a well financed opponent, riding on a wave of public anger and aided by an act of God could possibly hope to win. A politician with no real opposition is a politician that does whatever he wants.

Term limits also factor into this. Since our legislators only have a set number of terms, reelection becomes less of a fear. By the time they have developed a record which their opponents can use against them, their terms are almost up and they are moving on to other things. This limits accountability and prevents the reckoning at the ballot box that so many legislators richly deserve.

The opposition is to blame as well. California is run by Democrats and they bear much of the blame for the mess the state is in today. Yet the Republicans have seemingly resigned themselves to the mess that California has become and do little to try and rally the people to action. While the governor may be a Republican, his election was unique and in the normal course of affairs, with the anemic candidates the GOP has been fielding lately, we would likely have a Democrat in the governor’s mansion.

But the ultimate responsibility lies with the people themselves. If they are unwilling to check anything other than the familiar D or R at the ballot box, then there is no real hope for reform. Without public outrage directed through the ballot box, the Legislature will continue to practice its complete disregard for the well-being of the people of this state and no amount of initiatives or referendums will change that.

Sean Paroski can be reached at sean.paroski.240@csun.edu.