There oughta be a better law

Michael Ross

SN&R Photo By Larry Dalton

“Half a loaf is better than none, and sometimes one slice is all you get,” says legislative advocate Michael Ross, JD. “And I’m willing to go for the one slice, because at least it’s a slice.” Ross moved to Sacramento in 1977 and lobbies consumer-protection issues. His first bill was the famous “Lemon Law” for automobiles. He also has helped legally define a baseball card, owns season-tickets for the Oakland Athletics, graduated from law school at the age of 49, is a substitute teacher, and is a Republican who adheres to the mantra that: “What we need is not more laws. What we need is quality laws.”

What’s great about your job?

I get to fulfill what our Constitution stands for. I know that sounds really cliché, but when you go to a third-world country and they ask you what you do and tell them, their eyes light up because they don’t even know who their elected officials are, let alone have the ability to write a letter to one.

You have a unique political outlook?

I started off when I was in college as a flaming Democrat. Now I am close to being a libertarian. California’s concepts of Republican and Democrat are so different from the rest of the country that political parties really don’t matter.

Why focus on consumer protection?

Nothing I do ever really hurts me politically. I may lose an issue or vote, but I know in the long run things get pushed in the right direction. Consumer protection is a no-lose issue—everyone is a consumer.

An example?

One of the things that was probably the biggest rip off for consumers is the $20 billion in transportation bonds. What consumers don’t know is there will not be one new road or highway built. All it will do is improve old roads.


Fifteen years ago when you went to a hotel, you never knew what the phone rates were. Now when you go into a hotel, they have those little phone tents with rates on them. Those came from me. Now they’re all over the world.

And Rx cannabis?

I support it, and I support the concept of being able to go in and buy medical marijuana. But there’s no consumer protection, like weights and measures concepts. … And they don’t package it and label it properly.

Any “bad” laws?

Paul Koretz had a bill outlawing the smoking of cigarettes on beaches. Now, we were opposed to that for one reason: It was hard to believe, in this day and age, our Legislature is pushing everyone to smoke outside, and then all of the sudden you go to a beach and you’re told you can’t smoke. But you can light a bonfire, sit next to the bonfire for five hours, and that was legal—and bonfires are started with everything you find on the beach, including lighter fluid.

Term limits?

Moving the presidential primary is one thing. There’s two ways to look at it. First is that term limits is bad because it got rid of institutional memory and it got rid of the people who really knew what was going on. While at the same time it’s opened up doors for new legislators, there’s less gridlock, there’s more turnover, there’s more acceptance of new ideas. For someone like me, it’s made me a historian.

You’re a credentialed substitute teacher. How can schools change?

Schools teach ABC, but they don’t teach the important stuff, like how to live in the real world. How do you write a resume, how do you pick up a phone and talk to a stockbroker, how do you find out what an IRA is, what are your health benefits, how do you read a credit report—all those kinds of things.

What about the Skycar?

Imagine if you could fly to L.A. in two hours and have a car there to drive around instead of renting one. … You take people off the transportation grid. You get there faster. The air is cleaner and it’s cheaper.

Thoughts on the S.F. Giants and Barry Zito?

I think that it was one of the dumbest things the Giants have ever done. And the reason for it is simple: The A’s are smart when they get rid of players. Ninety percent of the time the players that the A’s have gotten rid of have never gone on to do anything else.

Tell me a memorable Capitol moment.

One of my heroes growing up was Tom Hayden. … And when I got to meet him, we became political friends. Until one day in a committee he did something that I was furious over. What he did was we were testifying on a bill dealing with professional sports—we were both on the same side—and somebody asked a question. The question was, “How does this affect franchise relocation?” Well [Hayden] and I had completely different viewpoints on this. While I was talking, Tom Hayden put his hand over the microphone I was speaking into. And I looked at him and I went, “Take your hand off the microphone.” And he says no. Well, you don’t argue, you don’t fight, so I stood up and walked over to another microphone and continued talking.