Capitol Journal: California passes a lot of dumb bills. Ending Columbus Day would be one of them

Joseph Cervetto Jr. holds up a sword while dressed as Christopher Columbus on a float during San Francisco's Italian Heritage Parade in 2003.
(Paul Sakuma / Associated Press)

The Legislature passed nearly 1,000 bills last year. A few were important. Most were not. Many were frivolous, some dumb — a waste of politicians’ time and public money.

Gov. Jerry Brown did veto 12% of the Legislature’s offerings. But that’s all muck under the bridge.

There are many bills pending in the Legislature again this year that the state could do just fine without.


The biggie: abolishing Columbus Day and replacing it with “Indigenous Peoples’ Day.”

I know, Christopher Columbus’ “discovery” of this already inhabited continent led to the indefensible annihilation of Native American life that had existed for thousands of years. I’ve always been incensed about it after being brought up by a mother whose grandmother was a Cherokee toddler on the Trail of Tears. Mom revered her Native American heritage.

I’ve never been a Columbus fan, but maybe it’s time to stop picking on the guy. He was a historic explorer, after all. And some European was bound to sail here eventually and begin conquering the natives.

Most importantly, Columbus Day is now an annual occasion for Italian Americans to celebrate their heritage. I’ve witnessed that pride of culture. My children’s great-grandfather on their mother’s side sailed to San Francisco from Columbus’ hometown of Genoa in the 1800s. Like many, he headed for the Sierra gold country.

San Francisco held one of the nation’s first Columbus Day parades in 1869, which began calling itself the Italian Heritage Parade in the 1990s. That city has produced some great Italian Americans, including Amadeo Peter Giannini. He founded the Bank of Italy — later renamed the Bank of America — and revolutionized banking by lending to working stiffs. He helped finance the rise of California agriculture, Hollywood’s movie industry and the Golden Gate Bridge.

But recently, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted to scrub Columbus Day and replace it with Indigenous Peoples’ Day. So did Los Angeles city council members and county supervisors. In San Francisco, however, there was so much blowback that the politicians backtracked and now are contemplating a joint Italian American-Indigenous Peoples’ Day.


State Sen. Henry Stern (D-Canoga Park) has introduced a bill, SB 1490, to scuttle California’s Columbus Day and rename it Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

“I’m getting heat,” he acknowledged. “It’s a robust conversation.” He’s thinking about amending the measure to give Italian Americans a cultural heritage day, but not naming it after Columbus.

“There are great Italian Americans throughout history but Columbus is not one of them,” he told me. Stern says Columbus brought “systematic rape, slavery, torture and exploitation” to the “New World.” That’s disputed by scholars who insist Columbus tried to keep his crew under control.

Anyway, there’s plenty of blame to go around for butchering Native Americans. President Andrew Jackson’s face is on the $20 bill, but he’s the blowhard racist who ordered my ancestors out of the Great Smoky Mountains.

“It’s ironic that when our Legislature does everything it can to celebrate immigrant rights, it’s about to get rid of a holiday that celebrates [Italian] immigrant rights,” says Democratic consultant Steve Maviglio, who has been lobbying against Stern’s bill pro bono. “In the 1880s, more Italians came to California than to New York because they felt more welcomed here.”

It’s also ironic that originally the loudest opponent of Columbus Day was the Ku Klux Klan, because Italians are Catholic.


California actually already has an annual Native American Day. It was authorized by then-Gov. Ronald Reagan in 1968 and is observed on the fourth Friday in September.

So what’s this really about? For one thing, many California tribes have gotten rich off gambling and are major political players.

Briefly, here are some other bills we don’t need:

• Banning tackle football for kids before they reach high school, which has been proposed in a bill by Assembly members Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento) and Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher (D-San Diego). They cite the danger of long-term brain damage suffered by head injuries at a young age.

Yes, but kids are going to play tackle if they want to anyway, regardless of whether they’re in an organized league. And this should be a parental decision.

• “Mouth-to-snout” resuscitation for endangered pets. That’s right. Sen. Steve Glazer (D-Orinda) has a bill that would allow first-responders to provide this emergency service for a dog or cat. Currently, such resuscitation must be performed by a licensed veterinarian.

So there’d be pressure on the responder to apply mouth-to-snout. Come on! Really?

• A sit-down restaurant would be barred from providing plastic straws to customers unless they’re requested. Assemblyman Ian Calderon (D-Whittier) said he introduced the bill after reading that 500 million plastic straws are discarded daily. Fast-food eateries would be exempt.


Better idea: Just pass a resolution asking restaurants to do that. Don’t become any more of a nanny state.

• The California Vaquero would be designated California’s official horse under a bill by Assemblyman Randy Voepel (R-Santee). He says it dates to at least 1769 in this state.

I’d prefer the donkey. But we’ve got too many “official” things already: a state fabric (denim), a dinosaur (nevermind) ...

• California’s official sport would be surfing, under a bill by Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi (D-Torrance).

Sure. People living in the Central Valley or the desert would certainly relate. Who thinks up this stuff?

More from George Skelton »


Follow @LATimesSkelton on Twitter