Tuesday, July 28, 2009

My visit to the sausage factory

I assume you have heard the sausage factory metaphor, where even though sausage may look and taste good, you do not want to see it made. Watching a legislature in action is sort of like that.

Last Thursday night and early Friday morning, I got to enjoy a rather unique experience. I have a friend who works at the State Capitol in downtown Sacramento, and he got me into the State Senate chamber where our esteemed legislooters were attempting to - once again - hammer out a budget for our decrepit state.

It had been known for a couple days in advance that the vote on the budget was going to happen sometime on Thursday, July 23rd. It was just a matter of how long that vote would take. After some progress early on in the afternoon, both sides got bogged down in the details. By the time I arrived at my friend's office in the Capitol around 10pm, both the Democrats and the Republicans were in caucus, which means that they weren't even in the Senate chamber; they were in their respective meeting rooms hammering out intra-party disagreements. The caucus locations themselves are fodder for amusement. With the Democrats wholly in charge of the California legislature, they have given themselves a plush conference room in the Capitol in which they hold their meetings. The Republicans? They get a coffee break room into which they shove their 15 members (out of a total of 40 state senators). I find much of what the majority party does to the minority party to be amazingly juvenile, no matter which state or federal body we are talking.

The Dems and Reps caucused until about 1:30 Friday morning. There are closed-circuit TVs focused on the Senate floor in offices throughout the building, so we could see members of both parties beginning to trickle into the chamber. My friend and I walked into the Senate chamber at 1:43am (!) and took a seat in the back of the chamber and began watching as the Senators finally got down to business. And what was their first order of business? What pressing matter was taken up just before 2 in the morning, with 30 more budget bills yet to debate and vote upon? It was some sort of meaningless resolution from a Democrat senator, calling for the support of some United Motor plant in her Bay Area district that was threatening to shut down. Her resolution was passed with bipartisan support, but not before a Republican senator stood up and pointed out that the reason that the plant was threatening to shut down in the first place is because of the anti-business confiscatory taxation that the Democrats who run this state keep shoving down our throats.

For the next two hours, the Senate debated and voted upon bill after bill - these bills together making up California's budget for the next fiscal year. Amazingly, at 4:15 in the morning, with a vote not going well on the Republican side, the Republican leader called for another caucus! That was it! We couldn't take anymore of the madness, so my friend and I went back to his office and watched another hour of proceedings on the closed-circuit television. Finally, at 5:30 in the morning, with the Senate still debating and voting, I walked out of the Capitol into the gloomy dawn light. The fun part is that I had to move two truckloads of teacher stuff from my garage into my classroom, but I went home and slept for a few hours first.

I wish I had a picture or two to accompany this narrative, but photographs were not allowed to be taken by anyone except the credentialed news cameramen who were present and, I assume, making some major overtime. I can only leave you with the visual of little ol' unimportant me sitting in the back of the chamber of the Senate that serves the largest state in our union. The business was slow and deliberate, but I found it to be absolutely fascinating. And yes, we have a budget... for now.

Good Day to You, Sir

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