Belated wishes for a happy Constitution Day.
You probably didn’t know it, but yesterday was a federal holiday. Without a day off work or school, most people don’t realize that Sept. 17 is Constitution Day.
That’s too bad, because the Constitution is America’s most important document, and it deserves a celebration commensurate with that status.
After all, the Constitution defines our system of government – including the key concept of three coequal federal branches – and our liberties. Both are being weakened by forces within our country and outside it.
I frequently wonder: If we celebrated the Constitution more passionately and understood it more intimately, would we so willingly tolerate dangerous compromises to the values enshrined in our nation’s most important document?
The California legislature finished this year’s legislative session last week. Besides being late (again) with the state budget, this year’s session produced two major disappointments.
Topping my disappointment list is the legislature’s failure to pass any redistricting reform legislation. Despite a promising start by Fabian Nuñez (D-Los Angeles) in the face of the extreme displeasure of powerful Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), the measure ultimately wasn’t even brought to a vote.
I’m terribly disappointed by the lack of action, but not at all surprised. It’s in lawmakers’ best interest to maintain the status quo. As one wag put it, the current redistricting system allows legislators to choose their voters, rather than allowing voters to choose their legislators.
State legislators want to continue to redraw state Senate, state Assembly and Congressional districts after each census. The gerrymandered districts they dream up are not designed to produce districts with shared interests, but safe seats for incumbents.
The fractured state Senate, state Assembly and federal House of Representatives districts in South County illustrate that fact. So does the fact that, as the San Francisco Chronicle reported, “In 2004, not a single one of the 153 [California] congressional and legislative seats up for election changed party hands. In 2006, just one did when GOP Rep. Richard Pombo lost his … seat to Democrat Jerry McNerney.”
Redistricting reform won’t come through legislative action because a majority of legislators fail to prioritize their country, their state and their constituents more highly than they prioritize themselves. It will have to happen through a voter initiative.
And, while voters will have a chance in February to alter term limits, they won’t have a chance to fix the current redistricting mess. I don’t like term limits. But I won’t vote to change, extend or eliminate term limits until redistricting is reformed.
Another disappointment was that the legislature quietly passed a bad bill that will allow the Valley Transportation Authority – no other agencies – to place 1/8-cent increment sales tax measures on the ballot. SB 264, “Transactions and use taxes: Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority,” was sponsored by state Sen. Elaine Alquist (D-San Jose).
I’ve written about my dislike for this bill in the past. I urged my Assemblyman and state Senator to vote against it. My Assembly representative, John Laird (D-Santa Cruz), voted to approve this legislation, and my state Senator, Abel Maldonado (R-Santa Maria), voted against it. SB 264 was approved by both houses and it now sits on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s desk.
Now opponents’ only hope is to convince Schwarzenegger to veto this lousy legislation. He must act by Oct. 14.
You can send an email message using the form on the governor’s web site; call his office at 916-445-2841; fax a letter to 916-445-4633; or mail a letter to State Capitol Building, Sacramento, CA, 95814.
Tell the governor that one-of-kind legislation is a bad idea, that the VTA is a troubled agency that continues to ignore serious calls for major reform of its spending and governance by the Santa Clara County civil grand jury and the Hay Group, and that with a state audit about to begin, it’s ridiculously bad timing to enact SB 264.
I’ve already sent an email message to Schwarzenegger. Please use your voice to urge the governor to veto SB 264.
One positive outcome of this legislative session was the passage (again) of a bill, AB 43, Gender-Neutral Marriage, sponsored by Assembly member Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) to legalize same-sex marriage. Schwarzenegger is expected to veto this bill, like he did a similar bill in 2005. Please urge him to do the constitutional, fair and right thing: Sign AB 43.