Has Dem supermajority ushered in incivility?

April 25, 2013

By Katy Grimes

Since the Democratic supermajority was ushered in after the 2012 elections, I’ve observed an interesting shift at the Capitol.

Democratic leaders promised they would “restrain” themselves on the ability to increase taxes. That hasn’t worked out so well given all of the tax and fee increase bills passed last year, and in many new bills this year.

But the Democratic leaders never promised civility.

What incivility?

I am actually a fan of British Parliament. I love how they really fight over bills and government issues. Even when the insults fly during session, they always hold fast to decorum and the parliamentary process.

We can’t always say the same in the California Legislature.

In the Assembly, whenever there is a particularly contentious issue, Republicans are repeatedly cut off during floor debate. Democrats are allowed to drone on and on.

Last year at the end of the session, nearly every time a Republican challenged a bill authored by Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, or a budget bill, they were routinely cut off, interrupted and admonished by leadership.

The same happens in committee hearings. Republican bills are getting unceremoniously killed every day in every committee hearing. And, even uglier than on the floor of the Assembly and Senate, Republicans and their bill supporters are interrupted and cut off, and not allowed to finish speaking or testify.

Of particular notice, I’ve observed Assembly Transportation Committee Chairwoman Bonnie Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, refuse to allow opponents to Democrat’s bills the same amount of time to testify as supporters. And when a Republican bill is heard, she’s particularly prickly, and hurries lawmakers and supports along.

This week, during the Assembly Transportation Committee hearing on AB 60, the bill which would allow illegal immigrants to get California driver’s licenses, Lowenthal allowed hundreds of Latino activists and supporters to make speeches in support of the bill. But when one opponent, a private citizen, showed up to speak in opposition to the bill, Lowenthal rudely cut him off several times, and admonished him on his testimony.

And now the Senate has joined in on the incivility. During Monday’s floor session, Sen. Joel Anderson, R-San Diego, stood to speak against the reconfirmation of Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty. As Anderson recounted the many serious violations, broken laws, abuse, corruption, waste and seriously dangerous conditions which have occurred under Dougherty’s watch as director, he was interrupted several times by Democratic leadership.

Anderson asked if there was a new time limit he was unaware of.

Anderson is not one to back down, and challenged his Senate colleagues, reminding them the very job of the Legislature is the oversight of state agencies. He asked Senators why they weren’t providing proper oversight of Caltrans.

But the Senate reconfirmed Dougherty on a party line vote.

The big rush to get through the reconfirmation of Dougherty apparently was to get to the Sexual Assault Awareness Month: Denim Day California Resolution. Authored by Sen. Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, SCR 22 “designates the month of April 2013 as Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and would recognize April 24, 2013, as Denim Day California, and would encourage everyone to wear jeans on that day to help communicate the message that there is no excuse for, and never an invitation to commit, rape.”

Such important business. Senator after Senator stood to offer supportive speeches. This was done without interruption by Senate leadership.

Only when Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, spoke about the need to reform prison realignment as a real way to protect women and innocents, did the interruptions begin.

Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, spoke about his support to ban military-style ammunition.

Steinberg took Nielsen to task.

The priorities of the supermajority always take precedence, but the silencing of the minority party and opponents, is dangerously approaching traits practiced by autocracies. Totalitarianism and absolutism do not belong in a Representative Republic.

The video of this floor session is available on the California Channel at this link.

The Assembly Transportation Committee hearing is available at this link.

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