For two hours one night last week, members of the state Assembly agreed on only one thing: "words matter."
They just couldn't agree on which words.
The tug of war over a measure that has no practical effect pitted outnumbered Republicans against Democrats over the phrasing of a resolution about the Iraq war. How to express support for the troops? Should it support President Bush too, because he is the commander in chief?
Round and round they went, to occasional outbursts of applause, to member after member rising to recount his or her military experience, or a relative's.
Murrieta Republican Ray Haynes dramatically ripped up a version of the resolution he didn't like, tried to persuade Assembly members to include support for President Bush and accuse Saddam Hussein of endangering the global economy. Not to do so, he said, is "telling the evil dictator in Iraq that you support him. You're giving aid and comfort to our enemies."
Not so, said the Dems, who tabled several GOP amendments. They certainly support the troops, they said, but not Bush's policies.
When Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg, a Los Angeles Democrat, offered to add six words, including "support for our troops," startled Republicans scrambled into a caucus, and came back with a plan: to add to "support for our troops" the words "and our commander in chief in a just war."
After all, argued Republican Assemblyman Todd Spitzer of Orange, "The commander in chief is a troop. He is a member of the armed forces."
Democrats voted to table that, and then the Republicans fell in with the Goldberg suggestion, which passed with nary a "nay." Republicans claimed a "huge victory" for their caucus, in spite of the fact that Bush's name and title did not make it into the resolution.
"We wanted a resolution to support our troops," Spitzer said. "We got that tonight. It is a great victory for the troops in Iraq."
Fresno Democrat Sarah Reyes reminded colleagues that neither Bush nor Congress was staying up late awaiting California's resolution, and urged them instead to "pray for everyone."
And then "maybe we should get back to the business at hand in the state Legislature. We have our own war brewing in California, if you haven't forgotten that. Recall the budget. We're $35 billion to the worse in this state [and] we just spent the last two hours debating a resolution."
Bedeviling Details in Mattel Donations Case
Et tu, Barbie?
Now that the El Segundo toy maker Mattel, one of its former executives and a political consultant have been fined a combined $931,000 by local and federal ethics agencies over political money laundering, the details -- wherein, as everyone knows, the devil resides -- emerge.
Files released by the state Fair Political Practices Commission show that Mattel execs said they did not know about the money-laundering scheme by former Mattel executive Fermin Cuza and political consultant Alan M. Schwartz.
A letter from Mattel attorney Jeffrey Haber to investigators notes that the company's internal investigation concluded the former executive was not only promoting Mattel's interests but "seeking to enhance his own political profile," particularly to be "considered for political appointments" that he was seeking or being considered for.
As for Schwartz, transcripts recount him bragging about helping Mattel and himself by being seen as a fund-raiser. That "is how you kind of get inside the tent.... The more times I would show up, I could cut right to the issues and wouldn't have to do a lot of the small talk or whatever."
The "whatever" evidently extended to more than $120,000 improperly contributed under others' names to two dozen national and local politicians, most of them Democratic incumbents.
You Too Can Be an Assemblyman
Alex Paraskevas is 7, and he sent his mother's boss a letter on the first day of the Iraq war: "Can you make a new rule that whenever there is war, everybody at work can stay home from work and that all the kids get to stay home too ... ? I want you to make it because in case bombs hit our school or my mom's Capitol office."
Alex's letter was sent to Assembly Speaker Herb Wesson; Alex's mother is secretary to the Assembly's health committee.
Wesson wrote back the next day, agreeing that these are "scary times, even for grown-ups," and assured Alex that "everyone is doing all they can to make sure you and your family are safe. At the Capitol, we have taken extra measures to be sure your mommy, and everyone who works here, is protected." He signed it "Your friend."
Glendale Democrat Dario Frommer, who chairs the health committee where Dessie Paraskevas works, invited Alex and his little brother onto the floor of the Assembly, where they posed for pictures with the bigwigs.
"Out on the floor," said Alex's mother, "people were telling him, 'You can become an assemblyman too.' I told him that if he becomes an assemblyman, he can make his own rules."
And that's where politicians come from.
A Proposal to Give the Clergy Their Due
Under the heading of rendering less unto Caesar:
San Diego Democratic Assemblyman Juan Vargas was trying to persuade his colleagues on the revenue and taxation committee to approve his bill giving a tax break to clergy who minister at state prisons and other state facilities.
"These are terrific people who work very, very hard on behalf of the state. They have a lot of the jobs that people really don't want -- that is, working with people who have had challenges in their life in the correctional facilities and other facilities, and also with us.... It is an issue of justice, and fairness. These people work extremely hard. It would be a heck of a -- I was going to say helluva, but I won't. It would be a heck of a morale booster for them." Amen.
* Armed with nearly 11,000 red heart-shaped boxes of donated Nestle Perugia chocolates, the LAPD and the L.A. Police Protective League will launch a "community appreciation" program, distributing the sweets to supportive community groups and residents throughout the department's 18 divisions.
* The Atascadero City Council voted 3 to 2 to join Burbank to appeal to the Supreme Court a ruling barring the word "Jesus" from official invocations. Burbank wants to appeal a lower court ruling upholding the 1983 Supreme Court decision permitting generic prayer.
* First Lady Sharon Davis brought down the house at a gathering of National Women's Political Caucus members at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County when she recalled a question posed by a girl at a Northern California high school. The girl wondered how Davis became first lady. Find the guy with great prospects, she said -- and then added, better yet, run for governor yourself.
You Can Quote Me
"We found it hard to be funny. They found it hard to be serious."
Erik Smith, spokesman for Democratic presidential candidate Dick Gephardt, explaining the cancellation of the Missouri congressman's scheduled appearance with Jay Leno on the "Tonight Show" last week. Gephardt will be re-booked.
Patt Morrison's columns appear Mondays and Tuesdays. Her e-mail address is patt.mor email@example.com. This week's contributors include Mark Z. Barabak, Dan Morain, Jean O. Pasco, Nancy Vogel and Jenifer Warren.