TCS Daily

Democrats Against Democracy

By Lawrence Weitzman - July 3, 2002 12:00 AM

The California Legislature, controlled by Democrats, just pulled a stunt that makes the corporate bigwigs of Enron, WorldCom and Global Crossing look like pikers.

Last Friday, Democrats in the legislature hijacked an innocuous piece of legislation entitled Assembly Bill 1493. They employed an assemblyman's trick -- called a "gut and amend" -- and removed some of the existing language of AB 1493 and replaced it with the language of another bill: AB 1058.

Now, AB 1058 was the measure designed to limit CO2 emissions from cars and trucks. The bill's supporters believe that CO2 emissions lead to global warming, even though such worries are not supported by the available science.

Why did Democrats pull this legislative switch? Because up until last Friday, AB 1058 was a notoriously unpopular bill that was stalled dead in its tracks in the Assembly. After a spirited and public debate, Californians had let their representatives know that they didn't want it. Simply put, they didn't like the economics or the politics of the bill. It would severely restrict vehicle choice (by effectively banning SUVs and trucks in California), compromise vehicle safety, impose higher taxes on California residents, and subject Californians to regulations from an unelected bureaucracy, the California Air Resources Board.

But clever Democrats would not be deterred by the will of California voters. They sidestepped the public by effectively giving AB 1058 a new name (AB 1493). They then rushed it through the legislature in two business days. Here's how it worked:

After Friday's "gut and amend," the bill was sent to the Senate (upper chamber) where it passed in a matter of minutes without any discussion or debate (the Senate was distracted by the big topic of controversy at that time - California's budget with its 24 billion dollar deficit). The bill then came back to the Assembly (lower chamber) on Monday morning where it was referred to the Transportation Committee. It was quickly passed out of committee and then brought to the Assembly floor under a procedure called a WORF: without reference to file. A WORF allows a bill to be brought to the floor without public notice that it will be heard. The bill passed by one vote and is now heading to Gov. Gray Davis' desk.

'Sneaky, Underhanded'

"It's interesting how the Democrats talk of honor and the integrity of the House, and then they run through this bill very fast," said State Assemblyman Tim Leslie. "Why rush? We didn't even hold a proper hearing on it. It wasn't in the open; it was in a closed room that was inaccessible to the general public. I'll tell you why they did it this way: It was so the public wouldn't have a chance to make their views known. This was sneaky, underhanded, and not the way we should conduct business in the state." Leslie's office received at least 121 angry email on the evening of July 1st when his constituents learned of the legislature's machinations.

So what's the upshot of the bill? Well, its very existence gives Governor Davis leverage to shake down auto companies (who were opposed to this bill) for millions of dollars in campaign contributions. If he gets reelected, it further enhances his authority in the state as he will select the bureaucracy that will create the regulations to implement the bill.

But Davis can still veto this bill. In doing so he can undercut his challenger, Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Simon, by claiming he saved the minivan and Ford Explorer for all of California's soccer moms. In doing so, he could go a long way to effectively neutralizing a key difference between the candidates, namely, their approach to regulatory questions and the environment (Simon had already come out against AB 1058 since it would limit consumer choice, raise taxes, and increase the cost of automobiles)

This bill now before Gov. Davis is an affront to the democratic process and the spirit of open and vigorous debate. While this legislative chicanery may be insulting to California voters, it is useful in for its illuminating qualities. Environmental extremists will simply not be deterred by democratic processes and care little about the wants, needs, and interests of average voters. It will be interesting to see whose side Gov. Davis takes as he now considers this bill.



TCS Daily Archives