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Fixing Sacramento: Don't Hate the Player, Change the Game
By Jasmyne A. CannickDisclaimer: This ain't politically correct. This might offend my political connects.
State budget problems, high taxes, prison overcrowding, and a never-ending education crisis has California voters fixated on their Legislature and its 120 members with a proposed initiative that would cut annual legislative sessions to a maximum of 95 days and slice lawmakers' pay by at least 50%. While I like the idea of a part-time legislature, why stop there? The problems in Sacramento are more serious than how much they are paid. It has more to do with who is being paid in the first place. Something tells me that we'd dramatically cut down the amount of career politicians seeking public office in California's Legislature if they couldn't enjoy the perks of living in the best neighborhoods, sending their kids to private schools, and selectively seeing the world from behind the tint of their tax-payer funded vehicles.
There continues to be a disconnect on the behalf of some state representatives regarding the condition of their district and the people in it. A disconnect that I believe is the reason why they fail as a group at getting anything accomplished where California's budget crisis is concerned. I guess the tint on those Lincoln Town Cars and taxpayer-funded vehicles can be awfully dark and does an exceptionally good job of shielding what some officials just don't want to see.
That needs to change.
What would happen if lawmakers' who want to represent California voters were mandated to not only live in their districts, but to live in the most economically depressed part of their district as identified in the most recent U.S. Census Report? For some elected officials in California it might not be that much of a difference. But for others like State Senator Rod Wright, who represents the 25th Senate District of California, a district that includes Palos Verdes, Lawndale, Hawthorne, Gardena, Inglewood, Compton, and parts of South Los Angeles, it would mean moving out of his four-plex in Inglewood, which he listed as his residence when he registered to vote in 2007 or his single-family home near Baldwin Hills that is not in the 25th District, and moving to either Compton or South Los Angeles.
Just about every district in California has a "hood" or "barrio" and I don't see anything wrong with mandating that lawmakers' live in them. Why shouldn't they hear the same police sirens we hear at all hours of the day and night and be kept awake by the police helicopter's beaming light, which in some communities has managed to replace the moon? Shouldn't they have to jump too at the sound of gunshots and screeching tires? Maybe then they'd be more willing to come together in solving California's problems if those problems were right outside their front door instead of down the road, at the bottom of the hill, or outside of their gated neighborhoods.
I get very disturbed when I read reports about lawmakers' who don't live in the district that they represent. It bothers me even more to find out where they choose to live after elected might not even be an issue under current state law. California voters deserve to be represented by people who truly live in the districts they represent, and are not residents on paper only.
None this is to say that everyone in Sacramento is a failure. I'd like to think that we do have some good ones in Sacramento, including my favorites Assembly Speaker Karen Bass and Senator Curren Price. But favorites or not, they are only as good as their weakest link, in this case their Republican counterparts who do their part year after year to make sure that our Legislature fails at passing a comprehensive and fair State budget.
This is about changing the way the game is played.
As an added bonus, we could always tack on another mandate that members of California's Legislature be forced to enroll their children in the same underfunded public schools, community colleges, and state universities that our kids have to attend? I wonder what kinds of changes we could expect to see then. After all, if it's good for the gander, it's even better for the goose.
Based in Los Angeles, CA, Jasmyne A. Cannick is a well known and respected public policy and communications professional with a successful track record in the areas of public policy, issue and campaign strategies. Jasmyne has used her experience working for office holders on all three levels of government to assist underserved and vulnerable population groups. She can be reached at www.jasmynecannick.com