I was at a meeting about a week or so ago going over the measures in the upcoming June primary when someone said a name that kicked off my cynical political senses. Apparently Darrell Steinberg, even after his time as Senate pro tem has passed, has managed to get misleading legislation onto the ballot. He may be running for mayor of Sacramento, but California will be feeling the consequences of his time in the legislature for decades if not the rest of this century.
When I heard that he had introduced this piece of legislation, I instantly began looking for an ulterior motive, and sure enough I found a few.
Steinberg's Proposition 50 would change the vote requirement in each house from 50 percent-plus-one to 75% percent-plus-one to suspend a legislator, as well as allow that majority to withhold pay from that legislator throughout suspension. At first glance, this may not seem like such a bad idea. After the fiascos we've gone through in the past year with Sen. Leland Yee running weapons, Sen. Rod Wright's carpet bagging, and Sen. Ron Calderon's taking of bribes, it may seem tempting to let the Senate and Assembly punish their own. But the truth is that we already have a system for removing criminals and miscreants from office, and that's called the recall. Yes, a recall costs money, but one of the things I've found most disturbing in the last several years is the way the "public servants" seem to fret over the cost of democracy before fretting over things like slow-speed trains and bridges that are going to fall into the Bay.
In fact, this proposition is hugely beneficial to the ruling party here in California as it gives them an extra opportunity to stave off a recall. If you haven't noticed, recalls usually benefit the opposite party of whoever gets recalled. That's because given a choice between the scumbag being recalled and a member of the opposing party, even California's voters tend to oust the scumbag.
If you remove the onus for a recall, then you remove the risk of the party losing control of a seat in the legislature. Essentially, this act could be a way for the ruling party - and we all know which one that is - to take the pot off the burner so that the democratic process is avoided.
As if that isn't bad enough, the new law doesn't clearly set standards for what could be considered grounds for suspension. What if the Legislature was to set the grounds to the same standards that extremist college students use and then by definition anyone who doesn't follow the party line is automatically a racist misogynist bigot who kills puppies?
Healthy debate will have left the very building meant to house it.
What if what little resistance to the ruling party that exists today is suspended as a group? I would say it is farfetched but with all of the professors and administrators thrown out of their positions for absolutely miniscule "offenses," it isn't.
Several other newspapers have pointed out that the suspensions of Wright, Yee, and Calderon were the first in California Senate history. While their suspensions seem inarguable considering the evidence against them, not one of their cases resulted in a recall, and perhaps the state's earlier legislators wanted to protect the democratic process with which Gov. Hiram Johnson fought so hard to amend the California State Constitution.
Additionally, suspension under the new proposal would completely bar suspended members of the Legislature from participating in the legislative process, meaning that their seat would be taken off the register. So if the ruling party in the Assembly only won 59 seats, all they would have to do is trump up some charges against two Assembly members of the opposite party and get them suspended to have a two-thirds majority again until the next election.
Prop. 50 is a cynical and shrewd law meant to bait and switch the public. It will preserve the seats of the ruling party and allow mob mentality to creep into the chambers that are meant to maintain order and diplomacy in the face of mobs. I say we punish corrupt lawmakers, with the operative word being "we." The Senate and Assembly should be more focused on the work of actually running the state than on manipulating the public or the rules to their advantage.
Perhaps it is unlikely that the ruling party will use such extreme rules, but do they really need that much more power?
I'm going to vote "no" on Proposition 50 this June, and I hope you will join me.
Devon Minnema is a Woodland College student.