Rebuking Bowen: High standards shouldn’t be surprising

by CalWatchdog Staff | March 15, 2013 6:30 am

March 15, 2013

By Chris Reed

DebraBowen_CleanUpPoliticsDemocratic lawmakers have been a bit more likely to discomfit the status quo and show high expectations than normal this year. A Senate committee repor[1]t strongly suggesting that school districts were stealing federal school lunch funds for inappropriate uses used to be the best example. But this week’s decision by a freshman Democrat assemblyman to embarrass a veteran Democratic pol over her poor performance in statewide office is without recent precedent. Here’s Brian Joseph’s account[2] in the Orange County Register:

“Brought before legislators to explain a six-week backlog of business filings in her office, Secretary of State Debra Bowen offered this week a small window into state operations.

“It was not, as Assemblyman Tom Daly, D-Anaheim, said afterwards, encouraging.

“Speaking before Daly’s Assembly Budget Subcommittee No. 4 on State Administration, Bowen, also a Democrat, described an office that processes hundreds of thousands of critical business documents using a filing system reliant on three-by-five index cards.

“She explained how the her agency’s Sacramento office building, constructed in 1995, has ‘maxed out’ on available electrical outlets and how the state’s tortured procurement process virtually ensures that whatever software she orders will be obsolete by the time it’s delivered.”

It’s 2013, and a lack of electrical outlets is used to explain a major shortcoming at a state agency. Feel free to laugh, groan, guffaw or cry. Or all four simultaneously.

“She blamed budget cuts, staffing shortages and a generally unresponsive and inefficient government system for embarrassing delays that businesspeople say is costing them money.

“‘I almost needed smelling salts the first day I took a tour of the Secretary of State’s office,’ said Bowen, a former Marina Del Rey legislator who was first elected California’s chief elections officer and business records clerk in 2006. ‘It was just so incredibly paper-driven.’

“Bowen’s office has taken heat in recent days after it was revealed that her staff was taking 43 days to process business filings. As Assembly Budget Committee staff reported, this backlog delays businesses from starting up or hiring employees and postpones business tax payments.

“New York processes such documents in seven days, committee staff found. Texas, five days.

“‘There is a scoreboard,’ Daly said, referring to the other states’ better turnaround times. ‘At some point, the time for excuses is over.'”

How un-Sacramento: Expecting competence, rejecting excuses

This is a “wow” moment, given how Sacramento has worked for years. But it shouldn’t be. Lawmakers shouldn’t go easier on statewide officials just because they’re in the same party.

Especially now that Democrats’ power has reached hegemonic levels, taxpayers have to hope Dem lawmakers will make like Tom Daly going forward.

As for Bowen, I got to know her a little bit a dozen years ago when she was a state senator during the 2000-01 blackout crisis/debacle/scandal. I found her and another Democratic state senator, Joe Dunn, to be impressive and smart. I find it confounding that as secretary of state, she’s been so low-key and passive.

But maybe she just harbors hopes of following the Bill Lockyer route, moving from powerful statewide office to powerful statewide office[3] without ever going for the governor’s job.

But at least Lockyer occasionally makes waves and gives a middle finger[4] to the Democratic status quo.



  1. Senate committee repor:
  2. Brian Joseph’s account:
  3. moving from powerful statewide office to powerful statewide office:
  4. gives a middle finger:

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