Random thoughts for a slow February

Legislatively, February is pretty much a slow month in California. Bills are introduced with some splash in January and sit while a 30 day public notice requirement keeps them percolating before allowed to be heard in committee. Indeed as we speak, the Dems in the Assembly are off at their Caucus Retreat-this year in beautiful and grape-plentiful Napa. Although there is much “bonding” over golf and drink, it is a time when the priorities and signficant issues of the day are hashed out and discussed with less distraction and chaos than the rest of the session when the demands of lobbyists, constitutents and raising money often derail careful and thoughtful consideration of these complex and demanding public policy imperatives.
So a few thoughts on random issues for the early part of the legislative year:
Health care
Interesting how the Republicans-especially our Governor, have co-opted the phrase “universal healthcare” to describe their initiatives which do no such thing and aren’t designed to, either. Why isn’t there greater focus, in California or D.C., on the unholy profits of the insurance industry which takes anywhere from 25-40 cents of every premium dollar( depending on whose figures are used) and pockets it for its elephant-like bureaucracy and unsupportable profits? Take the insurance industry out of the equation, put in a single insurer -an independent government-overseen agency and voila, you’ve got a medicare-like system where almost all the money that goes into it goes out for medical services! But of course, check to see where all that campaign money comes from—starting right here with Governor Schwarzenegger…..and creeping beyond to willing pockets throughout the political landscape.

Moving the Presidential primary to February
Apparently a cooked deal, this smells of enormous “unintended consequences” to me. I understand and agree that California has been shut-out of the past several primaries because we’re trumped by states like New Hampshire and Iowa–whose method of selection and timing force the candidates to come to California-but only to take our money and spend it on promising the world to the little states and ignoring the massive and complex needs of ours. Unfortunately, there are hidden problems with this move. Cost is one, but not the most important. What happens to the June primaries where not only are our legislative offices up for grabs, but that sneeky old initiative process can do enormous mischief? As we’ve seen in this state, too many elections in a year mean too few voters and right-wing groups are likely to put anti-public interest measures on the ballot which can easily pass while the vast majority of voters are asleep at the wheel.
Of course, this push to a February presidential primary is designed to allow a term-limits extension to be placed on the ballot in a timely fashion to allow current sitting members (especially those whose term limits are up) to extend their terms and run in the June primary for what they hope is additional time in office. While modifying term limits is an idea worthy of further discussion, it should not be rammed-through at the expense of important policy and public protections which, I fear, will be the unintended results of this poorly thought-through folly.
Farewell to Leo McCarthy
And lastly, a farewell to another public servant of stature with the passing of Leo McCarthy. The former Assembly leader and Lt. Governor of our state was a man who accomplished many things for progressives in his years in power and will be missed. However, his low-key and almost bland style would make his success almost impossible today in our media-souped up political world. Nonetheless, he served his state well and his passing marks the end of an era of quieter, more thoughtful policy-making in our state. I hope our representatives in Napa take a moment to consider the qualities of leadership and commitment to the public demonstrated in the long and illustrious career of Leo McCarthy and try to emulate those qualities for the sake of the people he served so well.