Mr. Moorlach Goes to Sacramento

Heidi Siegmund Cuda
Former Investigative Producer for Fox 11 News in Los Angeles and the Creator and Host of the Economic Series, "Saving the California Dream." She is currently producing and hosting the series, "Ripoff Report Investigates."

I’m a CPA groupie. Not being a mathemagician myself, I rely on my pocket-protector friends to protect our pocketbook. Simply put, I like getting down to brass tacks, and it’s evident, the tax guys and gals usually know the score.

So that’s why I’ve been interviewing John Moorlach for years. The State Senator and veteran CPA is California’s most congenial Republican. Despite being a wet blanket on the Golden State’s fiscal forecast, he’s just so dang likeable.

He says part of his congeniality is that his first lesson in public service 22 years ago was to grin and bear it.

“Someone called me up and said, ‘Let me give you some advice: smile, grit your teeth. These guys aren’t gonna like you, but smile, they’re gonna grind on you, but smile.’”

Two decades later, he’s still grinning.

“Mostly because I have a warped sense of humor,” he says.

I asked him to recall his first day in the Senate, March 25, 2015.

“It was marvelous,” he says. “There was a special session that afternoon, two bills on the drought, and I looked at the bills and the numbers didn’t add up, not even close. And I’m meeting everyone and talking about how bad these bills are, and everyone is saying, ‘Yeah, these bills are awful, just horrible.

“And I get on the floor when it’s time to vote, and everyone is saying ‘Aye,’ and it gets to me and I say, ‘No.’ At the end of the roll call, it’s 39 ‘Yes’ and one, ‘No.’ And that’s my first day, and it sorta set the tone.”

He says he went up to everyone after the vote and asked them why, if they knew this was bad stuff, they voted for it.

“What I learned is, ‘How do you, in the middle of a drought, vote no on a drought bill?’” he says. “So a lot of the votes are made not because they’re the rights votes, it’s because they can’t explain to their constituents why they’d vote no on a ‘drought’ bill. Most of the money was coming from unissued bonds… the money was gonna be used not for drought but for flood control, so it was a technique.”

He says a Wall Street Journal editorial came out blazing against the bills a couple days after the vote, exonerating his calculations and naysaying.

“I didn’t come here for monkey business or patronizing nonsense,” he says.

It’s that attitude that earned him the subtitle: the Fiscal

Conscience of Sacramento. That might also explain why there’s scuttlebutt that he may run for Governor in 2018.

“I don’t know if there are rumors, but I do know that two friends of mine, on their own, set up Facebook accounts without my permission, like they’re having fun,” he says. “I kinda laugh. There was a publication on their blog saying I had formed a committee. I have not formed a committee.”

It’s perhaps wishful thinking for those who don’t want the sky to fall on their beloved state.

“Our balance sheet is terrible but the weather’s great,” he says, with his trademark humor.

Recognized as a leading player in cleaning up the Orange County bankruptcy, first as a Treasurer, then as a Supervisor, Moorlach says he feels his team is already making progress. He’s been tenaciously going after the low-hanging fruit of CalTrans, which he describes as trying to hit the backside of a barn.

“We have the highest taxes, but the worst roads,” he says. “There’s something wrong.”

He says he applauds Governor Brown for doing his part to keep state budgets on the straight and narrow.

“But to fix the state, it might require it to get a little redder.”

I ask him how that’s possible in an era when, to paraphrase Barry Goldwater, the social conservatives keep gumming up the works for the fiscal conservatives.

“I can only speak for myself,” he says. “I know my brand sucks. I know there are problems. But if we lose one Republican in November in the State Senate, we become irrelevant. We at least need a fair floor fight.

“If I could ask for anything it would be elected officials who want to do things, and can think, and can see the issues and come up with solutions,” he says. “I need more financial leadership up here. The social issues, that’s all fringe stuff. I need people who can do math.”

He says there’s a slow motion fiscal train wreck happening in the form of unfunded liabilities, and that’s why he’s keeping a close eye on Illinois.

“I drove through the middle of Illinois in October, through farmland, wondering just how high can we tax them? And then how do we explain to them the money goes to pension plans. Not to pay for new stuff, it’s to pay for old stuff. So what happens when everything grinds to a halt? Illinois already told their lottery winners not to expect their cash on time.”

He says, despite all the politicking and numbers crunching, he’s having a really good time in Sacramento. He says he’s even getting compliments from colleagues.

“Senator Hertzberg told me, ‘We thought you’d be this conservative jerk out of Orange County. But you ask great questions in committee, and you give brief arguments.’”

And with a smile on his face, Moorlach explains: “I can vote against your bill but that doesn’t mean I have to be your enemy.”

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