How your CA legislators spent spring break

April 3, 2013

By John Hrabe

California state legislators returned to the Capitol this week after a week-long spring vacation. The Sacramento Bee’s Capitol Alert already pointed out that spring break is “something California legislators and college students have in common.” That made us think of those tedious school essays, “How I Spent My Spring Break.”

So, how did legislators spend their time off? Much like college students, state legislators’ travel plans varied greatly. One legislator traded his legislator’s pin for his reserve military uniform. A few legislators went wild on special interest junkets. But most legislators used the time away from Sacramento to serve their constituents.

Lieu - TedState Senator Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, spent the week away from the legislature performing his Air Force reserve duty.  Lieu’s service didn’t go unnoticed. The lieutenant colonel started the week by being presented with the Air Force Meritorious Service Medal. The award was in recognition of his “performance of outstanding service to the United States as Assistant Staff Judge Advocate” at the Air Force Space Command in Los Angeles. Lieu also somehow found time to serve his district.

“I did Air Force reserve duty earlier this week, and today I’m speaking at a Santa Monica affordable housing event,” Lieu tweeted to last week.

Special interests

While Lieu was earning his second Oak Leaf Cluster for his military service, 15 legislators, including both Republican legislative leaders, were out-of-the-country ordering room service on the tab of special interest groups.

Assembly Republican leader Connie Conway of Tulare led a nine-person junket to Taiwan. Meanwhile, Senate Republican leader Bob Huff of Diamond Bar spearheaded a separate junket to Eastern Europe. If you’re experiencing déjà vu, that’s because it’s the second special interest junket by the state’s Republican leaders in less than six months. The Los Angeles Times reported that the Eastern Europe vacation was “bankrolled by groups lobbying the Legislature, including PG&E, Chevron, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and Southern California Edison, among others.”

Conway did not respond to repeated requests for comment on her spring break junket.

PolandHuff told that the trip was beneficial because “Poland and California are similar.” The nearby picture is of Poland, taken by Huff on his trip.

“The challenges facing Poland and California are similar,” Huff told CalWatchdog via email. “Studying Poland’s energy grid and sharing ideas and concepts about renewable energy sources helps all of us make better, more informed decisions about our energy, which is our future.”

Huff said that “energy producers, regulators, environmentalists, labor and legislators” all participated in the spring break junket. Huff was joined bystate Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens; and by Assembly members Travis Allen, R-Huntington Beach, Steven Bradford, D-Gardena, Henry Perea, D-Fresno, and Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont.

“To be effective decision makers, state legislators need to be educated themselves about the state’s energy needs and supply, and that is why I went on this educational trip,” Huff said in a lengthy statement, which also cited the recent trouble at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station and public outcry over transmission lines in his district as additional reasons for the trip.

Taiwan couldn’t get a response from Conway’s office to explain her Taiwan junket. However, a spokeswoman for Conway told the LA Times, “With Taiwan serving as California’s seventh-largest global trading partner, it is important to strengthen cultural and economic ties.”

Some legislators didn’t need to travel to Asia to strengthen cultural and economic ties with their district. Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva, D-Fullerton, simply drove up to Buena Park, where she toured the Korean Services Center, a nonprofit that provides support to Korean-American immigrants.

Quirk-Silva’s Orange County colleagues also kept busy with community tours and business events. State Sen. Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana, “toured Orange County’s first fully dedicated pediatric emergency department” at the Children’s Hospital of Orange County. Assemblyman Allan Mansoor, R- Costa Mesa, attended the grand opening of Assi Natural Market in Irvine, according to his Facebook page.

Several legislators took time to improve their decision-making in Sacramento. Assemblyman Dan Logue, R-Lake Wildwood, organized a “packed house at Chico City Hall for the CA Air Resource Board Town Hall.” Assemblyman Jeff Gorell, according to a Facebook status update on Thursday, was “headed to Navy Base Pt. Mugu” as part of an aerospace conference on unmanned aircraft systems, better known as drones.

The same day, Assemblyman Don Wagner, R- Irvine, “spoke with the Villa Park Rotary Club about the major issues in Sacramento.” Wagner also hosted an open house for his new Tustin district office during the spring recess, according to his Facebook page

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, who is normally preoccupied with his leadership responsibilities, spent time in his district office serving his constituents. Rhys Williams, Steinberg’s press secretary, told that over break, the Pro Tem worked “closely with his District Office team managing individual constituents’ casework.”

Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez, R-Lake Elsinore, might win the award for hardest working legislator. According to her staff, she was “busy, busy, busy,” hosting a monthly coffee, a senior scam-stopper event, a luncheon to honor the district’s women of the year, a meet-and-greet with local insurance agents and a meeting with the Small Business Advisory Council — all before she toured a medical center in her district.

Women of the year

At least two other legislators hosted district events to honor their “women of the year.” Assemblymen Brian Nestande, R-Palm Desert, and Ian Calderon, D-Whittier, honored local women that have made significant contributions to their community.

“It brings me great joy and pride to honor such exemplary women,” Assemblymember Calderon said in a press release. “Each of the honorees has made significant contributions in her community and deserves a special tribute for her dedication and commitment to improving the lives of residents in the 57th Assembly District.”

Of course, it’s not always better to give than it is to receive. State Senator Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, was honored by the San Francisco Young Democrats as its “Advocate of the Year.”

“Senator Yee’s online voter registration law got over 500,000 young people registered to vote in an election year when funding for our education system was at serious risk,” the organization’s president Alex Mitra said in explanation for the award. Yee also spoke about his online voter registration legislation at the MobileGov2013 conference. As Yee was giving a speech, Assemblyman Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, was “waiting for [former Utah Gov.] Jon Huntsman to speak @ Reagan Library.”

Last week, much of the public’s attention was focused on the US Supreme Court’s oral arguments in two landmark gay rights cases. State Senator Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, who is one of California’s leading gay rights advocates and the first openly gay man to serve in the Senate, was among those at the nation’s capital who “heard oral arguments for Prop 8, Hollingsworth v. Perry,” according to a Tuesday tweet.


Tags assigned to this article:
Bob HuffConnie ConwayJohn HrabeTed Lieu

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