State Issues

Legislature can improve, but no need to abolish it

While Mark Twain's oft-quoted comment about not getting into fights with people who buy ink by the barrel is wise, sometimes a pundit can be so wrong that you have to respond, no matter how much power of the press he has behind them. Fresno Bee Editorial Page Editor Jim Boren's recent column (published on modbee.com, Aug. 28) calling for abolishing the Legislature is a good example.

Let me take just three issues that recent legislatures have addressed that expose the flaws in Boren's broadside.

  • Assembly Bill 32 and global warming. The leadership of the California Legislature, in formulating this gold-standard legislation, is widely seen as an example for the rest of the nation and other countries to follow. The very system Boren deems worthless is considered worthwhile around the world.
  • The American Lung Association notes that increased emissions of air contaminants, higher temperatures and the increased smog that accompanies higher temperatures make many health conditions worse. So everyone working to improve air quality and respiratory health in the Central Valley should be leading the cheers for what the Legislature did with AB 32.

  • UC Merced. Otherwise known as the first new American research university in the 21st century. Even with its occasional growing pains, there's no doubt that the University of California at Merced was an overdue addition to this region and will continue to grow and serve as an academic and economic boon for the Valley.
  • Without strong legislative support for its creation and development, UC Merced wouldn't have happened. Boren's column longs for the day when legislatures helped expand the UC system, but ignores the work done over the past decade to do just that.

  • Infrastructure bonds. The Legislature came together in a bipartisan, North-South, urban-rural compromise and authorized historic infrastructure bonds for the November 2006 ballot. Proposition 1B allowed for funding $20 billion in transportation projects to keep people and goods moving in this state. And $1 billion of that -- the only earmark included in the bonds --- was for Highway 99, the key economic artery for the Valley.
  • Are there issues and areas where the Legislature needs to improve? Of course.

    There's an inherent conflict of interest with legislators drawing their districts and choosing their voters rather than having it be the other way around. That's why I introduced legislation to take redistricting power away from the Legislature and give it to the respected nonpartisan Little Hoover Commission, and that's why I am continuing to work with Assembly Republican Leader Mike Villines of Clovis on a bipartisan solution.

    As the recent budget holdout by Senate Republicans showed, there is also a flaw with the two-thirds vote requirement for passing a budget. Although I must acknowledge again that Republican members of the Assembly did, in fact, join Democrats in passing a responsible budget that was virtually identical to the budget that the Senate and governor signed onto some 52 days later.

    Do lobbyists have too much sway in Sacramento? Then maybe we should listen to the term-limits reformers who want to shorten the time that legislators can serve from 14 years to 12 years, but give them more experience in one house so they can counter the strength of lobbyists and bureaucrats.

    Editors and columnists can play a key role in shaping the response to the challenges California faces through appropriate criticism -- no matter how harsh. In another editorial -- one taking me to task (constructively) on a different issue, The Bee once wrote that "even under the best of conditions, politics and governing are going to have their moments of contention and anger. We've just had such a moment. Now let's get over it."

    That's good advice for Boren and The Bee to take as well.

    Fabian Nunez is the Speaker of the California Assembly.

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