Sunday, March 01, 2009

The West Coast Village

We know where a lot of federal lawmakers go after they leave office: DC think tanks or DC lobbyist firms. In California, former state legislators have a different destination: they get appointed to six-figure state government jobs.

From the Sacramento Bee:

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has appointed yet another termed-out lawmaker to a six-figure post in state government, his sixth such appointment in the past three months.

The latest appointee, former GOP Assemblywoman Sharon Runner of Lancaster, will earn $128,109 as a member of the Agricultural Labor Relations Board, which meets publicly twice a month.

The Schwarzenegger appointees – whose combined salaries total more than three-quarters of a million dollars annually – have come as the state is battling record-setting deficits topping $40 billion.

Let me make something clear, this is not just a Republican governor rewarding his former Republican colleagues. No, the governator is very bipartisan in his appointments. Here's a list of some of his other appointees made during the budgetary crunch:

Since December, Schwarzenegger has made the following appointments:

• Former Assemblywoman Nicole Parra, D-Hanford, as his new director of Regional Development Initiatives in the Central Valley ($128,124 per year);

• Former Assemblyman Greg Aghazarian, R-Stockton, to the Workers' Compensation Appeals Board, which pays $128,109 a year.

• Former Republican Assembly members Bonnie Garcia and George Plescia to the Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board. The jobs pay $128,109.

• Former Sen. Carole Migden, a Democrat, to a $132,178 job on the Integrated Waste Management Board.

To be fair, the Democratic-led state legislature has also awarded some former colleagues with appointment to state boards, but Gov. Schwarzenegger got voted into office in the famous Gray Davis recall election by promising to stop this sort of government largess. Californians surely remember this:

Four of the appointments were to boards that Schwarzenegger once sought to eliminate, part of his failed plan to "blow up the boxes" of state government.

He once said that "no one paid by the state should make $100,000 a year for only meeting twice a month."

I suppose it can be argued that state legislators do have more insight into the workings of the state government than most Californians, but appointees are often not matched with jobs that fit with the skill set from their earlier legislative tenure. For example, Ms. Runner did not serve on either the Agricultural Committee or the Labor Committee during her tenure. So what are the criteria? I suspect a combination of name recognition and substantial lobbying by those who have access to the Governor.

One of the reasons the state's voters imposed term-limits on elected state office holders was to stop the entrenchment of power among the very few. I'm still not so sure that term limits is a terrific idea, but I do understand the reasoning. Unfortunately, some canny people found a way to keep that old state paycheck coming in.

What a state.



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