Senate president pro tem Darrell Steinberg and Assembly Speaker John Perez came into their last two years as legislative leaders with a full head of steam behind a supermajority control of the legislature and new revenues because of the success of Prop 30. Managing these new found riches in both party votes and taxpayer gold placed both leaders in a unique and high profile position. They were the center of attention for much of the year in the California political world and both deserve consideration as Black Bart Award nominees for 2013.
Part of the trick for this leadership duo was to balance the pent up spending demand from fellow Democrats with the concern of spending sprees that could repeat mistakes of the past which helped plunge the state into fiscal chaos. Governor Brown was looking over their shoulders, but they had the votes to override any veto (that is, before legislators started playing musical chairs with other political offices.)
Even so, both Steinberg and Perez supported progressive agendas and satisfied supporters by stalling tougher solutions to some big time budget problems like pension reform.
Most notably, they had the power to dominate action that few recent legislative leaders have enjoyed.
Attending the class I teach at Pepperdine University last month, the Speaker noted that the legislature’s approval rating has increased 270% during his tenure. And, that was before the recent poll that indicated another increase in the legislature’s approval (although still outweighed by disapproval.)
Perez promoted a full agenda pushing “investments” as he calls them in state programs but giving a nod to the state’s economy and budget by taking the lead in proposing a spending blueprint for the coming year, getting behind a rainy day fund proposal while promoting legislation to get businesses registered more quickly at the Secretary of State’s office.
However, Steinberg ended up a rung higher on the attention meter so while Speaker Perez deserves honorable mention, Darrell Steinberg is my nominee for the Black Bart Award in 2013.
Steinberg dealt with high profile, controversial issues throughout the year that were followed closely by the media and the public. His SB 374, vetoed by Gov. Brown, was a controversial gun control bill that would classify a semiautomatic center fire rifle that does not have a fixed magazine with the capacity to accept no more than 10 rounds as an assault weapon.
He was more successful with his measure to change CEQA laws to advance the building of a sports arena in downtown Sacramento, Steinberg’s district. Much was made during the course of the year about Steinberg’s desire to modernize the CEQA law. While the measure involving the sports arena was a modest change at best and benefited his home district, it prompted criticism from opponents of the change from both environmentalists who want no changes in CEQA and business who wants changes to go further and those who felt Steinberg’s proposal only came about because it clearly benefited his district.
Steinberg also got entangled in one of the biggest political stories of the year – the FBI investigation of Senator Ron Calderon. Steinberg stripped Calderon of his committee assignments after the news of the investigation broke and then was brought into the story by Calderon’s attorney claiming that Calderon was asked by the FBI to wear a wire when talking to Steinberg. Responding angrily to the allegation, Steinberg said the FBI told him specifically he was not being investigated.
Drawing additional attention from capitol insiders and the press were major policy issues considered publicly by Steinberg. He argued that both the initiative process and the local vote requirements dictated by Proposition 13 should be examined for possible changes. While that got the political bees buzzing in Sacramento, both issues were put off until next year.
Still, much attention and focus was on Senator Steinberg throughout the year. I nominate him for the 2013 Black Bart Award.