Punishing Pols: Thirty Lashes With a Wet Noodle?


If the point of stopping paychecks to legislators was to get a faster, balanced budget, it hasn't worked.

But if you read the commenters on this site, as well as much of the media commentary, you would think that the solution to the budget process is: even more punishment for the legislature.

So what should be next? Taking away their offices? Taking away their staff? Taking away their clothes and forcing them to deliberate in the buff? (OK, second thought on that last one: no one really wants to see that).

Or maybe some sort of enhanced not-quite-torture techniques to force them to get rid of the gimmicks in the budget? Within the confines of the Geneva Convention, of course.

Here's California's problem: a number of the people reading this don't realize that I'm joking.

Punishing legislators has been the public's strategy for getting the legislature to do what it wants for the past generation.

We've steadily limited their power over taxation, spending and various other policy items. We've limited their terms. More recently, we cut their pay and took away their cars.

Limiting the power of the legislature has been the defining idea behind ballot initiatives and reform for years. And during that time, California has descended into governmental chaos. And the legislators are powerless to do much about it -- because we took away our power.

We should be angry at ourselves. But instead we're angry with them.

Which has sort of become the legislature's real job: serving as scapegoat for all the political failings of the state, so that interest groups, governors and the voters themselves don't have to look in the mirror and understand their own culpability in this mess.

Bashing the legislature has become the California answer to the American political strategy of questioning an opponent's patriotism: it's the go-to dodge, the way to end conversation and cease all thinking. It feels good.

It's gone on so long that Californians have become political sadomasochists.

We need help. Let's begin the intervention with a fact.

You know the last time a majority of Californians told pollsters they were satisfied with the job the legislature was doing?

The month BEFORE voters approved term limits in 1990.

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