Bailey calls Burton "a mercurial presence in the Capitol, a walking expletive with no deletion." My free Common Sense e-letter gives no quarter to such bad-boy antics, but I guess some folks deem bad boys endlessly lovable, even in politics. One former legislator was quick to defend Burton's "big, volcanic temper tantrums" as "almost always for real things."
Burton has also had his share of scandals. A strong advocate for Indian gaming, Burton took 2,500 shares of stock from a Wisconsin Indian casino. Once this became news, he said the stock was given to him "in return for political advice." Finally, Burton returned the "payment" ? valued at $3,125 per claimed hour of advice-rendering ? saying the stock had "become a pain."
Republican Senator Ross Johnson claims that his labors to acquire land for a regional park in Orange County was one of his proudest accomplishments in 24 years in the legislature. One has to wonder: once Johnson leaves the legislature, will there ever be another park?
Then there is Senator John Vasconcellos. His work will no doubt continue post-term limits through the John Vasconcellos Legacy Project, a charitable foundation "committed to drawing together and sustaining the Senator's vast body of work." The Senator's introduction on the website states:
John Vasconcellos is a leading visionary in the convergence of psychology and politics. His ground-breaking efforts to promote self-esteem, to reconcile the tension between individuality and community, and to model collaborative civic leadership have distinguished his 38 years in the California Legislature... He is known for personally and publicly integrating the tenets of humanistic psychology as a distinctive approach to human affairs. . . . His major focus has been to forge unity between who he is as a person and who he is politically.
Did I mention he was from California?
Vasconcellos's latest legislative crusade has been to lower the voting age to 14. But even with all his political clout and legendary legislative skill, this prize has eluded him. Now, with his service limited, who will carry on this lofty legislative battle?
Byron Sher will have spent 24 years in the legislature when he leaves at year's end. He is now 76 years old and has yet to work in the private sector. Granted, he is well respected in the environmental movement and hasn't the wild reputation of some California solons.
Still, the notion that Sher and company are super-legislators, indispensable to California's future, without whom state government couldn't survive, is belied by the facts of their tenure. All four of these Senators voted for the energy legislation that led to the state's power crisis, and, according to Bailey, the three Democrats "showed little spending restraint during California's go-go late 1990s."
As political commentator Tony Quinn put it, "Even though they've been around a long time, none of them have shown any particular insight into how to get us out of these problems."
The politicians may never abandon their Chicken Little routine, but voters aren't buying it. That's why California voters crushed a term-limits-diluting measure, Proposition 45, pushed by Senator Burton, the Democratic Party, and a laundry list of special interests in 2002.
State Sen. Don Perata (D-Oakland), himself termed-out in 2006, fretted to The Los Angeles Times: "Our rearview mirror is foggy now. You can't create a future without a sense of the past. And a big part of that past is heading out the door."
Well, gentlemen, don't let the door hit you on your way out.
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