In the wake of a disastrous start to 2014 for the California State Senate, with Democrats losing their vaunted supermajority as three of their own ran into legal troubles ranging from an address snafu to full-blown arms dealing, a new path toward regaining public trust in government needs to be established.
California Forward took that first step by offering just that, A Path Toward Trust. In it are common sense solutions, some of which have already been introduced as legislation, that lawmakers should embrace and enact immediately as a sign to their constituents that they will hold themselves to higher standards that the ones that allowed three of their peers to run astray of the law.
They are simple enough: increase the frequency of campaign finance disclosure, modernize the database that tracks that disclosure, digitize the forms that detail potential economic conflicts of interest, allow for pubilc review of any bill for 72 hours before it’s passed and finally, institutionalize whisteblower protection in our state’s law and also by creating an independent ethics officer to work hand in hand with the FPPC.
In an email sharing the list with our contact database, we asked what people thought of the proposals and what else could be done to restore their trust in their government. The responses were many and varied, but all were illuminating.
“I may be naive, but I strongly believe that public service is and should be an honorable profession,” said Douglas Quetin. “Public employees need to serve the public. Period.” It’s a testament to just how far the bar has been lowered when a citizen pauses to question even the possibility that “elected officials” could be synonymous with the concept of honor. Mr. Quetin, who himself is a 30 year veteran of local government, went on to emphasize the importance of sunshine “at all levels,” saying that “it should be commonplace for us all to know how our political folks are doing, what they are voting on and why.”
“Public trust in government, certainly, is imperative for a democracy to work,” said Maria Rodriguez. “I believe it is a two way street. We elect officials to represent our interest and by the same token we have to hold those representatives accountable when they violate the trust and the power of their office.”
Carole Bradley thought that campaign finance disclosure “at every level – city, county and state” needed improvement. She also wanted to see a move toward public campaign financing. Carolyn Lilly agreed: “Take money out of politics. Have the California government fund all elections…this is the only way to make government work for the people.”
“I think you are right on target with new regulations. I want to better understand where the money is going,” said Toni Angle, who bemoaned the complexity of data even when it is readily available. “Everything is so high level that it is hard to understand. If the public really understood the States income statement and balance sheet (showing debt) they might think twice about how they vote.”
Even the Brown Act got a mention in the calvalcade of thoughtful responses: “Local governments are required to follow open meetings statutes per the Ralph M. Brown Act,” said Dan Buckshi. “It seems that transparency would be furthered in the Legislature if legislators were required to abide by similar rules.”
In general, there was resounding support for the Path Toward Trust:
“I agree with the proposed measures. We need to hold the government accountable.” -Bertha Advani
“I agree on all points. We pay high taxes in this state and deserve better performance from our elected and appointed officials.” -Glorya Anderson-Weber
“Absolutely needed. I’d like to see a restriction on campaign contributions during the annual budget process as well.” -Marc Branson
“These are great ideas, the sooner the better.” -Mikey Herring
“These would all be great.” -Charles Rich
“Yes! I fully support your trust platform.” -Cheryl Essex
“Sounds great. Am optimistic with this quick, straightforward plan.” -Anonymous
“These are great ideas! I support them wholeheartedly!” -Elizabeth Ryan
“I think these are great ideas.” -Leslie Halls
“I would happily support these measures to keep our governmental leaders legitimate.” -Ron Beeler
“I absolutely support this proposition. Dealing with legislators violating the law is frequently a political matter to the relevant party and has not been treated in a non-partisan manner.” -Ed Von Leffern
“I absolutely agree with your trust platform. We are fed up!” -Dr. Betty Edwards
“I like the five proposals. They would certainly help bring back trust in the State Legislature.” -Morris Cutler
Without question, these are the most unified and least polarized responses to any mailing CA Fwd has ever done. If it wasn’t already apparent to those in Sacramento, it should be when such a large portion of a relatively small sampling of Californians take time out of their day to express support for the Path Toward Trust. It’s as hot-button and populist an issue as there is at the moment.
To the State Legislature: the ball, as they say, is in your court.