Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Environmentally damaging connections

© 2009 Joshua Stark

A couple of unfortunate stories to point out here, but the eye-opening is important.

Emily Green has a great blog, in general (check it out), and a few weeks back posted an amazing story on the connection between a well-known California Senator and a powerful "farming" family. Amazing, and sad on at least three levels for me, because pomegranates are my favorite fruit.
Today, Capitol Weekly and Capitol Alert both reported on recent campaign donations to a group called "Californians for a Fresh Start", which is supporting a change in term-limits laws. Specifically, the change in the law would lower the limit from 14 years (two Senate terms and three Assembly terms) to 12 years, while allowing all the time to be served in one house. My guess is that it would also include a "fresh start" for currently-serving legislators. The three contributors are the L.A. Chamber of Commerce, the L.A. County Federation of Labor, and Majestic Realty.

Why is this an environmental & ethics concern? It just so happens that Majestic Realty directly benefited from a last-minute law which exempted its proposed NFL stadium from state environmental regulations (CEQA, to be specific). So, don't be offended if one sees this as Majestic Realty spending $300k (it's donation) to a proposition that would exempt current legislators from a law that everybody else has to abide by as a token of its appreciation for being exempted from laws that everybody else has to abide by. Of course, the other two organizations benefit from the exemption (temporarily), but they all lose (along with the rest of us) by creating a horrible precedent, further poisoned by this new twist.

CEQA, by the way, is billed as an environmental law, and its focus is environment, but it is really a good-governance law, because it creates a process by which institutions and businesses must be clear about their impacts, and it offers the public the opportunity to weigh in on decisions that may impact them.

This is another story that is sad to me on a few levels. First, I like football, and I treat folks who don't with suspicion. Second, I love CEQA, and this precedent means that a serious fight is coming over a good law that gives regular folks a voice. Third, I'll just come right out and say it: I don't like term limits, because they create bad distortions in public representation, and (more importantly) they infringe on my right to representation as expressed through the 1st Amendment's freedoms of speech, petition, and assembly.

I won't be voting for the "new" idea because it doesn't eliminate term limits, it just further ensconces one particular group of individuals, while reinforcing the appearance of impropriety between large financial interests and our representative form of government. But, it's sad that is has had to come about the way it did.

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