Now that the election is over, newly elected state lawmakers are starting to settle into their new roles.
The business of the Legislature begins in earnest in just about seven weeks and there’s a lot of work to do before then – aides to be hired, offices to be decorated, agendas to be conceived. It can be overwhelming for rookie legislators.
Perks of the Job
But if they haven’t found out already, newbie lawmakers quickly discover there are plenty of upsides to soften the blow. Elected officials are the closest thing to royalty in Sacramento; the day-to-day lifestyle of even the lowest ranking legislator is quite nice.
Let’s start with when they arrive at the airport. State legislators typically don’t rent cars at Hertz. They’re picked up, either by an aide or a sergeant at arms, who chauffeurs them to the capitol and/or to the home they maintain in Sacramento. Sometimes they can skip lines too.
Upon arrival at the capitol, courtesies continue. Everywhere they turn, staff or lobbyists – including total strangers – open doors for them and greet them by name. Initially, some lawmakers seem surprised when random people recognize them, but that appears to wear off pretty quickly.
Behind the scenes, staffers work hard to memorize the names and faces of new lawmakers. Frequently, at the beginning of a new two-year session, the sergeants, who provide security for legislators, carry around little sheets of paper with the names and pictures of new legislators, so they always know who to address with deference.
The Right-Hand Men and Women
In their personal offices, legislators are surrounded by staffs as small as two or three aides to as large as a dozen or more. Ostensibly, these aides help with paperwork and policy decisions, but horror stories abound about staffers who are asked to pick up dry cleaning or do work for a lawmaker’s outside business.
Aides are frequently used as gatekeepers, to keep undesirable people from getting access to a lawmaker. A lawmaker with a disciplined staff can avoid ever taking a meeting he doesn’t want to take while never having deal with burdensome paperwork or interrupting phone calls.
Then there’s the nightlife. Almost every night the Legislature is in session, there are a series of fundraisers and events for lawmakers to attend, often where they can eat and drink for free. And of course, there too everyone knows them asks how they are.
All in all, it’s a good life. Which is not to say that many, if not most, lawmakers come to Sacramento with serious, well-meaning intentions. But it’s easy to see how scandals are born.
Quick News Hits
• Republicans score enough wins in the Assembly to deny Democrats a supermajority in the lower house of the California Legislature. Democrats already lost their two-thirds majority in the state senate. (San Jose Mercury News)
• Poll shows voters want U.S. Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein to retire. You know ambitious state officials are watching this with interest. (L.A. Times)
• California’s Legislative Black Caucus is poised to have its largest membership in 47 years, thanks to state voters who elected several new African-American legislators. (Sacramento Bee)
• The 2014 elections are over. Let’s start thinking about 2016! (L.A. Times)
• It’s legacy time for Gov. Jerry Brown and he’s looking to burnish his with big capital projects. (San Francisco Chronicle)
• California’s new Legislature is unusually inexperienced – 72 out of 120 legislators will have two years or less of state house experience. (Sacramento Bee)
• Now that the election is over, it’s party time. Well, party time disguised as work. Several lawmakers are off to Maui to meet with special interests. (L.A. Times)
• Voter turnout was weak for the election. And the future doesn’t look bright either. (Sacramento Bee)
Politicos Behaving Badly
• Former Sen. Rod Wright appeals his conviction for voter fraud. (L.A. Times)
• Another Calderon lawmaker is in trouble – this time the youngest, Ian. But it’s only for failing to disclose income. (L.A. Times)
• One of the state’s biggest names in lobbying and political consulting faces a $5,000 lobbying fine and has to write off $160,000 in money he’s owed. (Sacramento Bee)
• Former Sen. Leland Yee’s case for racketeering and political corruption has been put on the fast track. (San Jose Mercury News)
Prediction: The governor may be focused on big statewide projects like the high-speed rail, but he’s increasingly going to face big-time opposition – including opposition from his own party. Expect him to double down on fiscal restraint as his legacy when the going gets tough.