In June, this column noted the dangerous consequences of one party rule in California. In addition to the fact that all major decisions affecting the state budget are now being made in secrecy and behind closed doors, I observed that the minority party — and the millions of Californians they represent — were shut out of the political process entirely.
To this we can now add another serious offense against the public’s right to know about the conduct of their representatives; one that puts state government on the slippery slope toward censorship.
In a letter dated July 27, I was invited to testify before the Senate Governance and Finance Committee by Chairwoman Lois Wolk. The purpose of the hearing was to take public comment and for lawmakers to discuss the tax increase propositions, 30, 38 and 39, along with Proposition 31, which alters the state’s budgetary procedures. I was asked to speak specifically on Proposition 30, the governor’s massive tax hike proposal. In her letter the senator said, “This hearing is required by law and is intended to inform the public of each initiative’s contents … .” The letter concluded with Sen. Wolk expressing her intent “to help the public make a more informed decision on election day.”
Although Sen. Wolk opened the proceedings reiterating her hope that the hearing would assist voters in making reasoned decisions on controversial ballot measures, someone else higher up in the Senate hierarchy was intentionally “pulling the plug” on the California Channel (CalChannel) coverage. CalChannel is a public affairs channel carried on most cable systems. While not a ratings hit, the service exists so that interested members of the public, many of whom are in no position to travel to Sacramento, can tune in and view proceedings as if they were in the hearing room.
The motive for blocking coverage of hearings on ballot measures that would increase taxes can be more clearly understood in light of the fact that Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg is one of those leading the charge for the passage of Proposition 30, a measure that could boost taxes by as much as $65 billion.
Speaking to a reporter, Steinberg spokesman Rhys Williams justified the disruption of CalChannel service this way: “It was inappropriate to provide legislative resources to promote the ballot measure campaigns of either side, and in particular to make those public-funded resources easily available for exploitation in political TV commercials.”
The Sacramento Bee’s senior political writer, Dan Walters, dismissed this explanation as “balderdash” and pointed out the same could be said for any hearing or debate on any issue.
Steinberg’s rational for censoring the television coverage for this statutorily-mandated hearing — something that no one I know can ever recall happening — doesn’t come close to passing the ha-ha test.
In my earlier column regarding the dangers of one party rule, I compared what is happening in California now to the fascist regime in Italy in the 1930s. When Dan Walters compared this act of censorship to behavior one could expect from a “tinpot dictator,” it appears we’re not the only ones who see the rising threat of despotism.
Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.