Term limits may force legislators out of office. But that doesn’t necessarily stop them from drawing a government paycheck.
Some simply call in political chits and get appointments to government boards, commissions and agencies.
Although many whose terms expired last December will find jobs in private enterprise, others have a hard time letting go of government work.
So far, five former legislators who left office in December have landed plum paying government jobs, courtesy of Gov. Pete Wilson, Senate President Pro Tem Bill Lockyer (D-Hayward), Assembly Speaker Cruz Bustamante (D-Fresno), and Insurance Commissioner Chuck Quackenbush.
In each instance, the officials who made the appointments lauded their choices by citing their appointees’ long experience as legislators, and say legislators bring unique skills to complex issues.
As for the pay the former legislators receive, Sen. Mike Thompson (D-St. Helena) said: “You can’t expect people to work for free.”
But as government critics see it, the appointments amount to evidence of how government officials take care of their own.
“Government was never meant to be something that people did in perpetuity,” said Harry Snyder, a Sacramento lobbyist and co-director of the West Coast office of Consumers Union.
“This whole thing seems to fly in the face of Proposition 140,” which created term limits, Snyder added. “Term limits meant limits on government paychecks. This thwarting of the people’s will is wrong. It’s like they don’t get it.”
Former Assemblyman Trice Harvey (R-Bakersfield), for one, was forced from the Assembly last year because of term limits. After 10 years in the lower house, Harvey, 60, lost a Central Valley congressional race in November.
Harvey, who could not be reached for comment Monday, landed nicely at the end of December, when Wilson appointed him to the Agricultural Labor Relations Board. Yearly salary: $101,001.
The Senate Rules Committee, headed by Lockyer, named former Sen. Daniel Boatwright (D-Concord) to the California Medical Assistance Commission. And Bustamante appointed former Assembly Democratic Leader Richard Katz of Sylmar to the same panel.
The commission is responsible for keeping down health care costs in the state Medi-Cal program.
Although the job requirement is that commissioners attend two meetings per month and the post is considered part-time, the pay is the same as for legislators--$75,600 a year.
Other post-election appointments include:
* Former Assemblywoman Paula Boland (R-Granada Hills), named by Wilson to the California Narcotic Addict Evaluation Authority. There, she will decide whether to grant parole to drug addicts from the state prison at Norco, a task for which she will receive $38,094 a year.
* Former Assemblyman David Knowles (R-Placerville), appointed by Quackenbush as deputy commissioner for policy, research and special projects, responsible for overseeing the Insurance Department’s legislative unit. A spokeswoman said Knowles’ salary range is $86,000-$93,000 a year.
Lockyer defended his appointment of Boatwright to the medical assistance commission: “He’s a very able individual who has worked in that policy area. . . . He has a sharp mind and good negotiating skills.”
Bustamante used the first patronage slot that came open during his brief tenure as speaker to name Katz to the medical commission.
“It’s an important issue for Los Angeles County--health care,” Katz said. “This is a serious job. The commission deals with hundreds of millions in contracts, and my job is to look out for taxpayers’ interests.”
Former Assemblyman Tom Bates (D-Berkeley) had considered going after the job, but thought better of it after hearing that Katz wanted it.
"[Katz] did a phenomenal job for the [Democratic] caucus,” Bates said. “He deserves a lot of credit for Democrats regaining control of the Assembly. . . . It basically was something given out as a reward for good work. . . . It’s a way to give people a soft landing.”
Bates, who collects a pension after spending 20 years in state and local offices, is keeping busy doing volunteer work, making plans to teach in the fall and awaiting a decision in his federal lawsuit to have term limits declared unconstitutional.
To date, three Republicans and two Democrats have landed appointments.
This latest crop of appointees is not significantly different from past groups. After the 1992 election, half a dozen lawmakers were appointed to such posts.
No matter the year, the phenomenon is bipartisan, although with Republicans controlling the governor’s office and most other state constitutional offices, Democrats have fewer state jobs to offer these days.
Wilson has by far the largest number of patronage slots--more than 60 on 13 boards, plus scores of high-paying posts in his administration.
The Senate Rules Committee and the Assembly speaker have four paying jobs each to hand out. With Democrats controlling the Legislature, the appointments have gone to Democrats.