School bell

It wasn’t so long ago that the only way a woman could get the respect she deserved in the California Legislature was by ringing a bell. The woman was Rose Ann Vuich from Fresno.

It’s hard to believe, but it took until 1976 for the voters of this state to elect their first female senator. (The good ol’ boys club in the Senate was so entrenched that there wasn’t a lady’s restroom nearby so one had to be fashioned out of a closet.) The men also addressed everyone in the Senate as a whole as “gentlemen.” Well, the decorous Senator Vuich got tired of this impolite disregard and started ringing a brass bell every time male colleagues used “gentlemen,” and although it took a couple of years, the general use of the word became a thing of the past.

Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg doesn’t need a bell now; she’s making enough noise without it. Goldberg is getting noticed for introducing some controversial bills (see “I’m loud. I’m proud. Get used to it.” ) that are moving through committee. A measure of her power is the fact that the influential California Teacher’s Association has asked her to carry a bill that would give teachers more control over the classroom. Her relatively quick ascent in the Assembly is a product of her personality and smarts, and one other key ingredient: term limits.

Before 1990, a freshman in the Assembly took notes and found their way around the power structure before proposing much of substance. Now, with term limits, the clock is ticking from the start and six years in the Assembly is all you have to make your mark. The straight-talking Goldberg is not wasting time.

Another positive effect of term limits: with the quicker turnover, the number of women and minorities has climbed. Not one of them has to ring a bell to get attention, just be effective at doing their job.