Eric Bauman, the state Democratic Party’s newly elected chairman, made an appearance before the Sacramento Press Club last week and, of course, the blowup over sexual harassment in and around the Capitol was a hot topic for questioning journalists.
Bauman made some news during the joint event with his Republican counterpart, Jim Brulte, by suggesting that Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra, whose groping of a woman when both were legislative staffers eight years ago has fueled the furor, should consider resigning.
“I think that Assemblyman Bocanegra needs to look at his own heart and decide what he’s going to do,” Bauman said. “Where he stands right now is a very difficult position. He’s going to have to think long and hard about what he does.”
Bauman also supported a bill, which has been killed for four straight years in the state Senate, that would give legislative employees the job protections that civil service workers already have if they complain about working conditions. He joined Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon in suggesting that the bill be amended specifically to protect workers who complain about sexual harassment.
The Assembly has passed the measure, carried by Republican Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez, each year and Senate policy committees have approved it, as well. But annually, it’s died without a public vote in the Senate Appropriations Committee, chaired by Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León’s close friend, Ricardo Lara.
Bauman’s expression of support for Melendez’s measure raised, however, another question from yours truly: Wouldn’t it be better to simply make rank-and-file legislative employees civil service workers with full job protection rights, including the right to join a union?
Bauman wouldn’t go that far, suggesting that civil service status could create conflicts in such a political arena.
In fact, however, that’s not a problem in the relationship between state civil service workers and the elected and appointed officials at the top of the managerial heap, including the governor, or in the state’s immense court system.
There’s no particular reason why rank-and-file legislative workers couldn’t be civil servants, rather than serving, as they do now, as “at-will” employees who can be fired without warning by their political masters.
Each legislator could have a small cadre of at-will staffers, but everyone else could – and should – have civil service status so that when they want to complain about working conditions, including sexual harassment, they needn’t fear retaliation.
Not only would legislative civil servants be protected, but the public’s confidence in the Legislature would be enhanced if legislators couldn’t load up their staffs with political operatives who collect often-handsome salaries from taxpayers while plotting their next campaigns.
It also would undercut the smarmy practices of compelling Capitol staffers to use “vacations” to pull duty in campaigns, of using sergeants-at-arms as personal servants and of twisting supposedly objective staff analyses of bills for political purposes.
By the same token, it’s high time that the Legislature comply with the California Public Records Act it’s imposed on every other state and local government entity and abandon the very weak “open records” law for itself that’s anything but open. That would prevent cover-ups when one of the Capitol’s miscreants has, like Bocanegra, been caught.
While we can’t take politics out of politics or compel politicians to act like adults rather than frat house denizens, at least we can make misbehavior more difficult to hide.
CALmatters is a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s Capitol works and why it matters. For more stories by Dan Walters, go to calmatters.org/articles/author/dan-walters. Dan Walters: firstname.lastname@example.org