Resolutions for better politics in the New Year

SACRAMENTO — Forty-five percent of Americans make New Year's resolutions, so I've read. And about 90% of those vows wind up being blown off.

But we're allowed to give it another try every year. It's part of the self-improvement process, a vital acknowledgment of personal flaws.


So in the interest of bettering the species — and nothing personal — I offer some 2014 resolutions for Sacramento politicians. Never mind that I have done this before and generally been ignored.

Gov. Jerry Brown should resolve to:

•Savor and bask in all the media speculation — even if it's a distant reach — about his possibly being tempted to run for president in 2016. For the fourth time.

At his age — he'll be 78 during the next presidential election — and after those earlier, ill-conceived stabs at the job, to even be mentioned is an achievement and honor. Soak it in. Smell the roses.

But Brown knows better than to take the chatter seriously. These are slow times in the news biz and political writers are scraping for anything to keep busy. He understands. Presumably.

•Be more considerate. But this seems hopeless.

Case in point: Brown continues to refuse to speak to the Sacramento Press Club, as previous governors routinely did, promoting their agenda for the coming year. It was always a sold-out luncheon for a good cause: refunding the club's scholarship program for college journalism students. This governor doesn't even bother to respond to the club's invitation.

It's not that he's too busy doing the people's work. He takes time to address special interests and rich supporters with his hand out for money to finance his 2014 reelection campaign.

Here I interrupt with a proposed resolution for fellow news types:

•Stop writing and broadcasting that Brown hasn't announced whether he'll run for a fourth term. When he's begging donors for millions to fund the race, that's enough announcement. That's running.

Back to Brown resolutions:

•Seriously rethink two potential behemoth boondoggles — the bullet train and delta tunnels — before the state gets in so deep it can't escape.

The bullet train has a $68-billion price tag with only $12 billion in sight. That's fiscally irresponsible.

The delta project is priced at $25 billion — but could soar to $60-billion-plus with interest on borrowing — and involves tearing up a garden spot to water a desert. More creative thinking is needed.

Now resolutions for legislators:

•Pass fewer laws. Address only legitimate state problems, rather than merely pumping out fodder for press releases. Each bill costs $20,000 on average to process.

The lawmakers regressed in 2013. They passed 901 bills, according to the governor's office. Brown signed 805 and vetoed 96. That's up from 2011, a comparable year in the legislative cycle. That year they passed 889. The governor signed 761 and vetoed 128.

•Conduct more of the public's business in the public light. Longer committee meetings with more public testimony. Fewer sneaky "gut-and-amend" shenanigans at the end of legislative sessions.

Provide enough time — three days, maybe — for legislators and interested citizens to read a bill before it's put to a final vote.

•Vacation at the same time.

Last summer, the two houses couldn't even agree on when to recess for a month. So they left town a week apart. That's inefficient and, well, a little childish.

•Pay for global junkets on their own dime. Or if there's a legitimate public purpose — and it can be proved — spend public money. But not special interest money. And that includes special interest money that fattens political slush funds.

•To cultivate bipartisan cooperation, take a legislator of the rival party to lunch once a month.

When I wrote that last year, Granada Hills reader Debbie emailed: "The problem is our Sacramento leaders are already out to lunch."

Side resolution for readers:

•Keep the emails short and civil if you expect them to be read.

Some suggested pledges for both the governor and the Legislature:

•Stop telling us that campaign contributions don't influence public policy. It really insults our intelligence.

If they feel compelled to say anything at all, just stop with: "Each issue is decided on its merits." We'll understand that, in political speak, merit means money.

•Build some backbone and stand up to powerful interests.

For Brown and Democrats, that means not always bowing to labor as it blocks regulatory streamlining and easier firing of sorry teachers. For Republicans, it's about not slavishly cowering to the gun lobby.

Here's one for Democratic Atty. Gen. Kamala D. Harris:

•Play it straight when writing official titles and summaries for ballot initiatives. Too many read like campaign talking points.

One classic was on a 2012 public pension proposal. It smacked so much of liberal propaganda that the conservative sponsors dropped the measure.

And here are some resolutions for us journalists:

•OK, the governor's corgi, Sutter, is cute. But nobody elected him. He gets way too much ink and footage. And he's really getting old in cartoons. Enough.

•In the coming election year, focus less on the scratching and clawing of candidates and dig more into the substance — if any — of what they're saying. If it's flimflam, call them on it.

•And, again, declare a moratorium on such overused words as "reform," "historic" and "crisis."

That resolution is sure to be blown off before the Rose Bowl kickoff.