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January 25, 2010

BOREN: Another legislator abandons the 'frustrating' system

There were many things that helped Assemblyman Danny Gilmore, R-Hanford, decide he wasn't cut out for the petty world of the California Legislature.

There were the meetings with constituents in Bakersfield that he had to hold in a tent in a city park because then-Assembly Speaker Karen Bass refused to give him a Bakersfield office. "I really resented that," Gilmore said.

There was the revolt in his own party that tossed Sen. Dave Cogdill and Assemblyman Mike Villines out of their Republican leadership posts because they supported a budget agreement that contained tax increases. "These are good men whose conservative credentials had been clearly established," he said.

There were the undisciplined legislative sessions that never started on time, marathon sessions in which lawmakers were locked in the Capitol and had to make crucial decisions for 38 million people with little sleep. "This is not the way to govern," Gilmore said.

The one-term Assembly member could tick off other slights that led him to decide to not seek re-election to the Assembly seat that he fought for longer than he will have served in. Gilmore lost a tight race against Democrat Nicole Parra in 2006, and then defeated Democrat Fran Florez in 2008 to win the 30th District seat. But a taste of Sacramento politics was enough for him to decide he couldn't bend with the political winds.

He said he wished he had the personality to be an effective politician, but he isn't wired that way. He wanted to get legislation passed on its merits, but realized that it was almost impossible because he was in the minority party.

"If I could sum up in one word my feeling about serving in the Legislature, that word would have to be 'frustration,' " Gilmore said. "Simply put, I do not have the temperament or personality to be a long-term politician."

Even though he's frustrated, he doesn't sound bitter. Gilmore, the retired California Highway Patrol officer and former Marine, said he's been humbled by being able to represent his district. "How many people can say they have had the opportunity to serve in the California state Assembly?" Gilmore said.

While the political system pushed him out of Sacramento, Gilmore said he developed many personal relationships with lawmakers from both parties. "My Republican colleagues were outstanding to me, and many on the other side of the aisle were wonderful. I was honored by those who asked me to stay."

But seeing the legislative process from the inside was enough for Gilmore to know that he didn't want to be a politician for very long. There are those who like the idea of being a legislator, even if they can't solve the state's problems. Gilmore isn't one of them.

He still has the rest of the year to serve, and he said he will use that time productively to make a difference where he can. "I'm going to work hard in the district and talk about the water problems. I support the water bond, and will work to get that passed."

Gilmore is backing Republican David Valadao, a dairyman from the Hanford area, for the 30th District seat.

Some might not grasp the significance of what Gilmore did last week. He had the guts to pull the plug on a political career after only a year in office. Gilmore thought a lawmaker was supposed to go to Sacramento and represent the voters who put him in office. He was wrong.

The Legislature is about self-absorbed people playing political games. He was smart enough to say he didn't want to be part of it.

Boren is editorial page editor of The Fresno Bee. Write him at

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