My Kingdom for a Legislature

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

Whenever I think about California and its problems, my mind fills with questions, unanswered questions about the state’s various messes and how we got into them. The press is dying, but sometimes I think how nice it would be if the state had some entity … you know… a body… a group of folks… maybe elected by and accountable to voters… you know, with subpoena power… the ability to call hearings… ask all kinds of questions — investigate.

You know. If we had a legislature.

Oh, that’s right.

If we had a real legislature.

If we had a real legislature, we might get to the bottom of any number of campaign finance scandals.

If we had a real legislature , we might learn what’s really going behind the scenes at CalPERS and CalSTRS.

And if we had a real legislature, we might figure out what exactly the state did wrong — or didn’t do that it should have done — to prevent some of the worst problems in the mortgage business.

Yes, such an investigation would be about the past. It would rehash old facts. Well, why not? Such a probe could also be about the future. Once again in the legislature, lenders are fighting off attempts at regulation, just as they did in the past. It might be nice to look backwards, and try to figure out what if any regulatory steps the state might have taken to limit the current damage.

And yes, an honest investigation might point not just to the executive branch but to the legislature itself. That’s what responsible legislative bodies do when a calamity hits in a policy area for which they’re responsible. (This state was home to Countrywide and Ameriquest, after all). They figure out what happened, and try to prevent it from happening again. And yes, legislators might be worried about the political consequences. But not too worried. After all, this is gerrymandered California; no one’s losing their re-election bid, right?

I realize there have been legislative hearings on these topics. There are all kinds of hearings. But what about real, deep investigation, combining the resources of both houses? An investigation that’s bipartisan, digs deep, and points fingers at everyone who missed the signs?

Such a probe would be useful. It’d be exactly the kind of a thing a real legislature would do. If only we had one.

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