Legislators from Local Government Weigh In
The 2007-08 Legislature is a special class because former local government officials now constitute a majority in both the Senate and Assembly. When these new members took office in January 2007, they brought fresh ideas and a local perspective to statewide policy-making.
The first half of the 2007-08 legislative session is complete, and these legislators have accomplished a great deal. They’ve lived through a major budget dispute and had to grapple with the enormity of the state’s tremendous structural budget deficit. They’ve introduced bills, seen some make it through both houses and onto the governor’s desk, and watched others die on the floor or be held in the suspense file.
In February 2007, Western City featured a selection of the newly elected members of the Legislature — primarily former city council members online at www.westerncity.com/feb07leginterviews. We checked in with those legislators as well as the rest of the freshman members from local government who weren’t inter viewed last year, and asked them what impact having served in local government had on their first year in the Legislature.
Legislators talked about how they drew on their experience of working collaboratively as part of a governing body at the local level. We heard from many that they evaluate bills from their local government perspective, understanding local priorities and knowing how the decisions they make in Sacramento directly impact cities.
In answer to the question, “How did you draw on your local government experience during your first year in the Assembly?” Western City received the following replies.
Jim Beall (D-24)
I was a local government official for 26 years, and the special needs of my cities are second nature to me. I live and breathe them. In turn, the local community knows me and feels comfortable coming to me with any request, no matter how small. This puts me in a unique position to provide a greater level of service to my cities and, in turn, I can rely on their grassroots support — true synergy in action.
Anna Caballero (D-28)
One of the most valuable things I’ve taken from my local government experience is the importance of being practical. In the Legislature, we vote on literally hundreds of bills in committees and on the floor. For me, a good filter is the same question I would ask myself as a local official: Is this practical? Does it make sense? Does this bill, in this form, really solve the problem? Is the bill the best that it can be? Can the state afford to adopt this approach? Even though the bill may be a good idea, does it make sense to adopt this approach at a statewide level? Should the whole state be subject to these provisions? As a legislator, I ask myself these questions and they are the same ones I learned to ask as a local elected official.
Mark DeSaulnier (D-11)
I have tried to raise awareness that what happens in Sacramento has real-life implications for the people and governments back home. City government is invisible to most people, but it is indis pensable. From park maintenance workers and transportation technicians to sanitation workers and police officers, they ensure public safety and improve the quality of life for our communities.
My 15 years in local government have shaped my life and afforded tremendous opportunities to learn and serve. I bring this knowledge to the Assembly and try to remind people that Tip O’Neill said it best with, “All politics is local.”
Mike Duvall (R-72)
As in local government, working well with other people in the Legislature is paramount. While I may not (and often don’t) agree with many of my colleagues on some issues, I think it’s very important that we are able to have civilized conversations about the issues. I was involved with a number of issues locally that are also at the forefront in the Capitol. These include public safety, transportation, infrastructure and illegal immigration. Both my local government involvement as well as my experience as a business owner have fed my interest in and knowledge of issues such as economic development, health care, workers’ compensation and prudent financial management.
Finally, familiarity with the function and processes of government has greatly helped me in Sacramento. Board and council meetings, processes for passing local ordinances, implementing new and innovative policies and assisting constituents are all very similar to what I do day-to-day in the Legislature.
Mike Eng (D-49)
I sit on four key committees in the Assembly, and chair one of them — the Committee on Business and Professions. As a former city council member and mayor, I understand how important it is to have a good relationship with state representatives. So when local government officials come to Sacramento to testify, I am very appreciative and respectful of their views. Many of them come to the Capitol on their own time. They are well versed on and passionate about the issues that affect their localities. After hearing so many of them say “Don’t forget us,” I set up a “Day in the City” with each of the seven cities I represent. I spend a full day with the city manager and mayor, visiting some of the department heads, and touring key areas to keep abreast of each city’s issues.
Mike Feuer (D-42)
My work on the Los Angeles City Council has helped me immeasurably in the Assembly. I’ve drawn on that experience to build coalitions promoting key legislation, address budget issues and fashion my priorities during my first year in state office. The personal relationships I established with leaders in all levels of government have also been extremely valuable because many of our biggest challenges cut across jurisdictional boundaries.
Ted Gaines (R-4)
I learned to think critically and determine the appropriate questions to ask while serving at the local level, and that is very helpful at the state level. Second, the number of bills passing through the Legislature became apparent to me, and I recognized their local impact. For example, it was frustrat ing at the local level to have an unfunded state mandate and have to figure out how to pay for it. My local experience also brought a common-sense approach to solving problems. AB 900 (prison reform), for instance, went through with bipartisan support in the Assembly. I was heartened to see that. It was a big issue, and we addressed the concerns of Republicans and Democrats and incorporated their input into the bill. I look forward to working on other issues across the aisle, including infrastructure. We dealt with infrastructure a lot at the local level, and yet we’re behind at the state level. I’m looking forward to changing this.
Fiona Ma (D-12)
When I sat in as an alternate last year on the Committee on Local Government, I realized just how critical it is for local elected officials to serve in the Legislature. At the local level, we ask all the tough questions: How will this bill be implemented and enforced and — most important — who pays for it? Local government experience helped me hit the ground running. I authored bills on transportation, housing and health care that were directly linked to local government experience.
Tony Mendoza (D-56)
I was on the Artesia City Council for 10 years and served as mayor. I was the first Latino on the council and the youngest at age 25. My experience in local government helps me deal with the public more skillfully. Instead of having a small community, I have a larger district now. My local experience taught me how to communicate with constituents and address certain needs. It also taught me how to deal with the media, do public speaking and more. I address all legislation by looking at how it impacts my district and examining the balance between what the state needs to do and what the city needs to do.
Curren Price (D-51)
My city council experience gave me a filter that lets me see the impact of state laws at the local level. At the local level, I learned the importance of community input and how to deal with colleagues in a collaborative way to get the best and most work done. This has been an asset at the state level. My local experience also helped me understand the complexities of the state budget process — the city budget is smaller, but you’re still dealing with interest groups, new programs, cutbacks and other forces that come into play in the Legislature.
Anthony Portantino (D-44)
In the Legislature this year, so many of us came from local government and were not tainted by partisan bickering because we had operated in a nonpartisan setting. Also, many of us knew each other from the League of California Cities, and we were familiar with veteran legislators from coming to Sacramento to lobby on behalf of city needs.
Having been involved with the Proposition 1A struggle of 2004 gave me an understanding of some of the state budget’s fiscal constraints. If we don’t deal with the structural deficit, we will continue to have to make very difficult decisions on a year-by-year basis instead of solving that problem once and for all.
Mary Salas (D-79)
My local government experience has given me a perspective on how legislation, no matter how well intended, can impact local communities. So I am always watchful for those things that will increase burdens at the local level. I also serve on the Assembly Committee on Water, Parks and Wildlife. When I’m in Sacramento, I have a keen awareness of just how critical the issue of maintaining the Delta is. My message to our local community is that we have to find a solution to what is happening in the Delta that balances preserving its ecological health with water conservation and an alternative conveyance system for water supply.
Jim Silva (R-67)
Because of my experiences as a city council member, mayor and county supervisor, I am keenly aware of how bills coming before me affect local government. Would a given bill restrict local control or put added cost pressures on cities and counties? Would it involve the state in an issue that local government officials should really be deciding?
My experiences in local government led directly to my jointly authoring AB 1222 with Assembly Member John Laird. In local government, I constantly had to deal with unfunded state mandates. This puts local government agencies in a difficult situation when the state forces agencies to pay for programs out-of-pocket and is slow in providing reimbursement. AB 1222 makes the reimburse ment claims process easier for local governments, and it should result in quicker payouts and reduce the backlog at the Commission on State Mandates.
Cameron Smyth (R-38)
In the era of term limits, it’s important to be able to hit the ground running. My time as a city council member and mayor significantly shortened my learning curve. It also enabled me to develop relationships with members of both parties. As local government offices are nonpartisan, I learned to look only at the idea’s merit instead of the author’s party affiliation.
Jose Solorio (D-69)
My six years as a city council member taught me which issues matter to the people of the City of Santa Ana and Orange County: good schools, safe neighborhoods, better jobs and efficient transportation systems. As an Assembly member, I tried to look at every bill that I voted on from the perspective of what would be best for the people in my district. My city council experience gave me firsthand knowledge of the types of tools and resources that local governments require to succeed in carrying out their work. As chair of the Assembly Committee on Public Safety, I did everything I could to empower locals with the tools they need to protect public safety and enhance the quality of life for their residents. For example, AB 104 (Solorio), which was signed into law, facilitates city governments’ access to important tools in the fight against gang violence. The bill makes a change to existing law in response to local city attorneys’ request for access to criminal history information needed to draft gang injunc tions and drug abatement orders.