Left behind

Things the Legislature should ditch as the governor releases 2014's budget

Greg Lucas' state-politics column Capitol Lowdown appears every other week in SN&R. He also blogs at www.californiascapitol.com.

Shout-outs, chillaxing and “Being All Ghetto” are among the 27 things Esquire suggests be left behind in 2014. With great gusto, Capitol Lowdown endorses all of Esquire’s worthy candidates for cultural excision. And, in that venerable magazine’s spirit of generosity, Capitol Lowdown offers an additional list of deletions for 2014 specific to the world of California politics.

Death to gimmickry and pabulum slogans. Gov. George Deukmejian, who took office 31 years ago on January 3, resisted press conferences and media events. “Can’t we just let the action speak for itself?” the Dukester often asked his press secretary. What could possibly be wrong with just saying no to press conferences on the steps of the Capitol; at elementary schools overrun with cloyingly cute, color-spectrum kiddos; and inside the clean room of an ever-so-green manufacturer of hemp undergarments?

Case in point: the press conference Assembly Speaker John Pérez held the other day to unveil (thanks in advance for also putting an end to unveilings) the Assembly Democrats’ “Blueprint for a Responsible Budget.” As opposed to their blueprint for an irresponsible budget, perhaps?

And what a fine blueprint it is, laid out in its simplistic, sound-bite glory in a graphically pleasing PowerPoint with white draftsman lettering on a blue background. It’s a blueprint. Get it?

Tomorrow, the governor of the great state of California headlines at an hour-and-change press conference, called ostensibly to lay out his proposed budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. There’ll be charts, keen graphics and lots of loopy answers to ill-informed questions from the media.

Compare this buffoonery to the judicial branch, which simply issues decisions. No pimping. No media confabs. Read it and weep. Or not. This year seems like a perfect time for the legislative and executive branches to tear a page out of their brethren branch’s playbook.

To wit: Just do it.

In this Internet-entwined world, if some public-policy shift is truly important it’ll go viral. Like those videos of precariously balanced cats peeing into toilets.

If elected officials are going to be flummery-free in 2014 and simply shut up and get the J-O-B done, then also easily jettisoned are all the euphemisms created for when politicians don’t get the J-O-B done. Just like real people, politicians often try to mask the starkness of failure with obfuscation—the verbal equivalent of putting a cocktail dress on a meth whore.

Committee hearings don’t seem to pass without lawmaker, lobbyist or loon proclaiming that some piece of legislation is merely a “work in progress.” What that means is the bill hasn’t been modified to address concerns voiced by the various parties potentially affected by it. But “work in progress” sounds far more majestic than “I haven’t bothered to place anything of substance or potential controversy in this empty shell of a measure.”

A “work in progress” seems more like what Michelangelo tells Pope Julius II when the old goat asks for the umpteenth time about the status of the goddamn ceiling. California would benefit if more works in progress were worked out before progressing further in the Legislature.

Also worthy of extinction is the exhortation that “the perfect shouldn’t be the enemy of the good.” Politicians don’t attribute the line—in a 1772 poem, Voltaire writes that a wise Italian says “le mieux est l’ennemi du bien”—using the aphorism mainly to repwulse attempts to stymie or modify their “work in progress.” Voltaire and the Italian wise guy would be convulsed in laughter at the arrogance of believing the remotest danger exists of perfection intruding itself in political affairs.

That’s a modest list of a few things that can easily—and wisely—be left behind by California’s politicians in 2014. Too bad this is an election year, because reason and restraint inevitably will be swamped by the fevered desire for job retention. So maybe the list is sort of a work in progress.