In 2005, when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was still attempting to govern, he submitted his reorganization plan, the California Performance Review, to the Little Hoover Commission and the people of California. The governor promised that implementing the plan (which never happened) was going to save us billions of dollars by streamlining California government and making it more effective. The plan recommended the elimination of 88 boards and commissions that were unnecessary and costly to the people of California.
Among the 88 is a little-known group, the California Integrated Waste Management Board. In case you aren’t aware, the board promotes “Zero Waste California” in partnership with local government, industry and the public. Not only did the California Performance Review recommend eliminating the board, it said the following about the board members: “In this particular case, an independently appointed board of full-time, term-appointed members creates an obstacle to full integration of these functions with a coordinated, collaborative environmental cleanup strategy.”
Rather than fight for the elimination of this board as his own commission recommended, the governor waited a year, and in January 2006 appointed Margo Reid Brown to the board, where she enjoys a $132,000 annual salary. In February 2006, after a full month of experience on the board, she was named its chairwoman. While her bio lists absolutely no experience in waste management, it does show that she was the director of scheduling for Gov. Schwarzenegger, a position she also held for former Gov. Pete Wilson. While it is tempting to suggest that there is no better way to learn about waste than to work directly for the governor, it still seems as if a board chair should have more than 30 days experience.
This leads to our discussion of former state Sen. Carole Migden (San Francisco, 3rd). If her name rings a bell, it is for good reason. In June of this year, Migden was the first sitting California legislator in 12 years to be defeated in a primary.
It’s possible her defeat had something to do with being fined $350,000 by the Fair Political Practices Commission earlier this year for 89 separate campaign violations, including spending more than $16,000 that “conferred a substantial personal benefit.” This is not her first penalty from the FPPC, and this time the fines cover not only her term as a state senator, but also as an Assemblyperson and as a member of the Board of Equalization.
What did the governor do? Proving he has no sense of shame or irony, he has appointed Migden to the board of the California Integrated Waste Management Board. For her multiple legal and ethical transgressions, for being booted out of office in a state where almost no one get booted out of office, and for having absolutely no experience in waste management, the governor rewards her with a $132,000-a-year job on a board that his own Performance Review said is wasting taxpayers’ money.
So that you don’t think Brown and Migden are exceptions, let’s look at two more board members, both appointed this month.
Assembly Speaker Karen Bass appointed John Laird to the board, after Laird was termed out of the Assembly. His bio shows that during his time in the Assembly, he authored 82 bills that were signed into law and was a leader in civil rights, coastal protection, children’s health and higher education. Nothing about waste management experience. Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata appointed termed-out state Sen. Sheila Kuehl to the board. Her bio mentions her success as a child actress, but again, absolutely nothing about waste management.
As a state, we are close to $30 billion in debt and it appears we will run out of money sometime in February. We are cutting programs, threatening to raise taxes, putting schools on alert that we’re going to have to fire teachers, and leaving roads unpaved and bridges ready to collapse. The governor has thrown up his hands and compares the California State Legislature to kindergartners for their inability to reach a budget solution. Unemployment is climbing, and many if not most Californians are struggling at some level.
However, we should all be comforted by the fact that no matter their lack of experience, qualifications or ethics, no politician in Sacramento will be out of a well-paying job as long as the governor is there. Perhaps the governor misunderstood that the board is responsible for recycling waste tires, personal computers and used oil — not washed-up politicians.
Scott Harris is a political commentator. Read his columns and contact him through his Web site, www.scottharris.biz, or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.