They must be high

Might I interest you in some golden elixir?

Might I interest you in some golden elixir?

Mayor Kevin Johnson is restarting his suspended strong-mayor bid, and will have his hired signature gatherers back on the streets any day trying to qualify a ballot measure to make K.J. one of the most powerful mayors in California (see “Boss Johnson,” SN&R Feature sidebar, February 26).

Bites asked Johnson’s spokesman Steve Maviglio, why not wait for the Sacramento Charter Review Committee to finish its work? That committee was created, with Johnson’s support, to take a more public and deliberative approach to possible government reforms, including the possibility of a strong-mayor plan for the city (see “Fixing City Hall,” SN&R Frontlines, May 21).

“The mayor is hopeful that the commission will put politics aside and modernize city government for the first time since the 1920s, the way most of California’s other large cities have,” Maviglio told Bites. “If not, citizens should have an alternative if the commission doesn’t offer real change.”

Put politics aside? This is a struggle for political power, and Johnson started it. The guy who wrote Johnson’s strong-mayor plan, Republican political consultant Tom Hiltachk, has been openly hostile to the commission—saying it’s biased because some of its members were publicly critical of Johnson’s power play early on.

Meanwhile, The Sacramento Bee and the broadcast media have largely ignored the existence of the citizen panel—even though the committee is right now holding public hearings on some of the most interesting and fundamental issues of local government.

Is it because they’ve already decided to side with Johnson and Hiltachk against whatever the committee recommends? Or is it because they feel the process is somehow not newsworthy? It’s just the city’s constitution, after all.

Will there be two dueling charter overhaul measures going head-to-head on the November 2010 ballot: the mayor’s and the one recommended by the committee and crafted in a public process? Or will politics and apathy assure that we only have one choice, the Johnson/Hiltachk plan?

Who among us this past year hasn’t looked toward the state Capitol,scratched our heads and thought, “Those people must be high.”

Well, California lawmakers will have to put down the crack pipe, if Gary Ellis and Dorothy Cummings have their way.

The San Bernardino County pair filed a petition with the California secretary of state for a ballot measure that would require state legislators to pass a drug test on the first day of every legislative session.

“They must be on something,” said Ellis, figuring that’s the best explanation for why the entire legislative body seemed to sit and watch, drooling and glassy-eyed, while the state fell apart.

Under the proposed law, any senator or Assembly member who tests positive for controlled substances or “habitual use of alcohol” will be required to report immediately to a drug-treatment program, or forfeit their office.

It’s still very early in the initiative process. Even if the measure is approved by the attorney general and the secretary of state to go into circulation, backers need to collect more than 400,000 signatures to get it on the ballot.

After all, there are a lot of unintended consequences to be considered. For example, what if there’s a sudden rash of empty legislative seats, leaving hundreds of thousands of Californians without representation? “Given their approval ratings, would they really be missed?” Ellis replied. Good point.

Under the plan, drug treatment will be paid for by the legislators, not the taxpayer, and no lawmaker will get to take per diem while they are in rehab. Refusal to take the test or a second positive after getting out of rehab will also cost them their jobs.

Sound harsh? That’s nothing compared to the first draft. “We threw in lie detectors, too, but the attorney general said that wasn’t going to fly,” said Ellis.