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State politics is a funny business, with its own rhythms and ways of doing things. One of the more ironic realities of this strange little world is that at the precise moment when everyone is intensely focused on securing a spot at the state capitol, the building itself is a ghost town.
We are in the final stretch of campaign season. The election is just 11 days away. Candidates and their aides are scrambling from voter forums to fundraisers to interviews to civic events. Politicians who have other jobs frequently take a sabbatical during this time to focus on campaigning, which, if you haven’t figured out, is a full-time job in and of itself.
And keep in mind that it’s not just candidates who are running themselves ragged. Campaign staffers, in some cases, may be working harder and longer hours than the candidates they’re serving. Candidates, after all, need to get a little sleep so they look good during debates. Nobody cares how strung out an aide looks.
But head to the state capitol this time of the year and you’ll find an entirely different vibe. Offices are at half- or one-quarter staffing, the few people around are dressed in jeans, taking two-hour lunches, maybe watching baseball on their computers. Hallways that are bustling during the heat of the legislative session with lobbyists now echo with the sound of a solitary staffer walking to the bathroom.
On a recent trip to the capitol to visit eight legislative offices one afternoon, staffers in six offices were out to lunch or just not there. Election season is a glorious time of rejuvenation for legislative staffers who contend with near-impossible deadlines and heavy workloads when lawmakers are in Sacramento.
But don’t get jealous. It’s not all that it seems. The reason the state capitol is half empty this time of the year is that legislative staffers are taking vacation — not to relax, but to help get candidates elected.
It’s understood on both sides of the aisle that if legislative staffers know what’s good for them they’ll volunteer for campaign work. This can mean taking hours, days or weeks off from your paying job to make calls at a phone bank or to walk precincts for some far-flung candidate you know nothing about other than that she’s on your team and the party wants you to help her.
Privately, Republican and Democratic staffers grumble about this forced volunteer work — phone banking, or cold-calling voters to ask for their vote, appears to be one of the staffers’ most loathed tasks. But most staffers seem to put up with it for fear that if they don’t they’ll get passed over for promotions in the future.
In combination — the busy campaign offices, the dead legislative ones and the aides cycling between the two — often seem weird to people unfamiliar with politics. But that’s just business as usual in Sacramento.
Quick News Hits
• Former San Diego-area state Sen. Denise Ducheny is expected to be appointed to the board of directors of two U.S.-Mexico boards: the Border Environment Cooperation Commission and the North American Development Bank. (U-T)
• The incumbents in San Diego-area legislative races are expected to win re-election. (U-T)
• The state is working on a plan to protect health care workers and the public at large from Ebola. (San Francisco Chronicle)
• The Democrats’ battle to keep a supermajority in the Assembly may be expanding to new fronts. (L.A. Times)
• Meanwhile, the Dems’ fight for a supermajority in the state Senate could come down to two races. (L.A. Times)
• Republican gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari dropped another $1 million of his own money into his floundering election bid. (Sacramento Bee)
• Gov. Jerry Brown quietly has gotten rich by doing business with Oakland developers he once regulated as that city’s mayor. (San Jose Mercury News)
• Speaking of the governor, he hasn’t done much to help other members of his party win election this year. (Sacramento Bee)
• Expect low voter turnout on Nov. 4. (Sacramento Bee)
• Independent expenditure committees have pumped nearly $32 million into California state contests this election. (Sacramento Bee)
• A new poll shows Prop. 45 appears unpopular with voters while the outlook for the water bond (Prop. 1) is good. (Public Policy Institute of California)
Prediction: Someday, a legislative staffer with nothing to lose will file a lawsuit claiming he or she was passed over for a promotion for not volunteering on a campaign. And the ensuing court filings will make for fascinating reading.