Greg Schmidt (1947-2016)

What a terrible loss. Greg Schmidt, the 18-year Secretary of the Senate, died this week in Sacramento. It’s hard to explain the impact he made through the advice he gave to legislators and the mentorship he gave to staff.

Schmidt

I met Greg in 2007, while I was a Senate Fellow in the office of a member of the Senate Rules Committee. The first time I ever met him, I told him that I was a student of legislative history and a big fan of his work on the 2000 California Blue Book. Immune to flattering words and people claiming to share his interests, he replied; “You can’t bullshit a bullshitter.”

Surprised by his direct manner and not having any idea how to respond, I blurted out, “I found an error.”

“Come with me,” he said, and led me to his office on the 4th floor. Dropping a copy of the massive book on a small table in his office, Greg pointed to it and said “Show me.”

 

In the years after, we occasionally talked as my research took me into what seemed like dead ends. After getting approval from his gatekeeper, I’d head up the stairs to his office and ask if he had time to talk. He would rarely give me the answer I was looking for, but would frequently point me in a new direction that I hadn’t thought of and send me along on my way.

Educated as a historian, he understood the thrill of diving into old books to learn stories that were forgotten by almost everyone. His training also helped him understand (better than most who work in Capitol) exactly how he fit into the history of the institution that he loved. He knew that the building had stood for a century before he arrived. You don’t even want to know how many legislators his tenure in the legislature overlapped with. It was a lot.

It can be hard for politicians and staffers to understand that, with all of the bustle and racing confusion of the session, this really isn’t the end of the story. Seeing members come and go, Schmidt understood that we get some time to make a difference and then we depart. History is a chain and the people in office now are not the final link. Although we can’t see it, the chain will continue after us and it’s our duty to do the best job we can while we’re here.

 

In his subtle ways, he left clues throughout the Chambers. In the hallway that runs from the Senate Sergeant-At-Arms office to the back of the Senate Chambers are the photographs of the California Senate’s Presidents pro Tempore. Not just one, but all of them, back to 1849.

On the hall opposite the entrance to the Members’ Lounge are panorama photos of the chamber filled with Senators of different sessions. Even on the Senate Floor itself, he placed a bust of an early Senator on a pedestal. I always enjoyed this quiet symbolism; to this day, every session is watched over by a 41st Senator who ties the modern institution to its humble roots.

Greg Schmidt was a man who, for the time he was able, kept the Senate connected to its roots.

 

 

My 54 Hours As a Candidate

For more than a decade, I’ve enjoyed being an observer of California politics, reading history books and interviewing legislators. During that time, I never thought I’d run for political office.

For me, it was hard enough to watch brutal elections where candidates gambled everything; missing anniversary dinners, kids birthdays, and even mortgaging their houses to fill campaign accounts.

Screenshot 2016-08-16 at 9.38.25 AMOn Monday, August 15th, I crossed over the line and became a candidate for a little over two days. This is the story of my 53 hours and 56 minute campaign.

Last week, a neighbor mentioned that by the close of the nomination period on August 12th, no candidates had filed to run for the board of our local recreation and park district. Like many special districts in California, the Arcade Creek Park and Recreation District is governed by a five-member elected board. The board is elected to four-year terms, with roughly half being elected every two years.

This year, three of the five seats were up for election and for a variety of reasons, the three incumbents had decided not to run for reelection. Because of this, the nomination period (when a candidate can file the paperwork to run) was extended until August 17th.

I’ve always been a fan of our local parks, and the board has been doing a lot of good work (modernizing playgrounds, increasing security patrols, and preparing to build a bridge that will finally provide a safe way to access the nature trail from the local community college). After some thought, I decided to run.

On Monday morning, my daughter and I drove down to the Sacramento County elections office where I was able to complete my paperwork in just a few minutes. I turned in my paperwork, took an oath of office (without reservation or purpose of evasion) and was out the door by 11:04 am. I was a candidate!

That evening, I checked the list of Qualified Candidates on the Sacramento County website. The time stamp on the PDF showed that as of 3:45:02PM on August 15th, I was the only name listed.

The next night, I wondered if I should check in again. It seemed that it might be excessive to check in on the candidate filing status daily. Then again, when your campaign is likely to only last 54 hours, checking in every 24 is probably the least you can do. Following the link again on Tuesday, I found that I remained the only candidate listed for the three seats.

The dawn brought Wednesday, the final day of my hard-fought campaign. At five in the afternoon, as I drove home from work in light traffic, the extended filing period ended at and (I was still the only one candidate on the ballot) I was declared elected.

My 54 hours as a candidate had ended.

The Brief Reign of Governor Tom

The Acting Governor

It won’t last long, but Tom Torlakson‘s brief term as Acting Governor next week will be one for the record books.

As mentioned in a previous article, in the late 1950s, the State Assembly’s Subcommittee on Impact of Enemy Attack extended the Governor’s line of succession from just the Lieutenant Governor and Senate President Pro Tempore to include all of the partisan constitutional offices that then existed.

In 2007, Senate Fellow Chris Nguyen (assigned to the office of Senator George Runner) had an idea for a bill. The idea was to add the three constitutional offices to the Governor’s line of succession that were not already on the list. He quickly recruited the help of two other Senate Fellows (Greg Sperla and I) to the effort.

Chris met with Legislative Counsel and had the bill drafted (the order was set as Superintendent of Public Instruction, Insurance Commissioner and Chair of the Board of Equalization based on the order each office was created). It was time to find an author.

Chris met with his Chief of Staff and asked if Senator Runner would author the bill. Runner declined. I met with Senator Bob Dutton and tried my best to convince him. He declined as well.

Finally, Greg met with his boss, Senator Dennis Hollingsworth. Hollingsworth was definitely not convinced on the merits of the bill, but agreed to introduce the bill as slightly-larger-than-usual spot bill (which could be amended to contain “real bill language” at some point in the future).

Two months after introduction, the bill was presented for the first and last time in the Senate Governmental Organization Committee. Hollingsworth presented the bill, which passed on a 10-0 vote and was sent to the Senate Floor. Shortly after passing Senate G.O., an short article in Capitol Weekly referred to the legislation as an “alien abduction bill,” noting that (short of an abduction of the state’s leaders by extraterrestrials) it was unlikely that a line of succession longer than seven members would ever be necessary. Hollingsworth, who had agreed to introduce the bill as a learning experience for a junior staffer, decided to let the bill die.

However, since the bill had passed the Governmental Organization Committee without a no vote, it was placed on the Consent Calendar and passed the Senate without opposition a week later. In the Assembly, it was referred to Assembly Governmental Organization Committee, whose consultants (noting that it had received no opposition in the Senate) placed the bill on consent there. It passed out of committee without discussion in late June, and the Assembly Floor (also without debate or discussion) on July 3rd. A week later, it was sent to Governor Schwarzenegger, who signed it into law on July 22nd.

July 2016

Alan Lafaso, Sean Wallentine, Joel Angeles, Mike Gipson, Richard Zeiger, James M. Humes, Dave Stirling, Steve Coony, Collin Wong-Martinusen, Bill Bagley, Evan L. Goldberge, Chris Garland, Earl Smittcamp

The Line of Succession for California’s constitutional offices

The line of succession gets flexed occasionally, with power most frequently devolving to the Lieutenant Governor, occasionally to the President Pro Tem, and occasionally even lower than that. In July 2016, it was announced that Governor Brown would be attending the DNC with the next eight constitutional officers in the line. For the first time in state history, the line of succession will go into SB 1530 territory.

At some point late on July 24th, an airplane carrying the higher constitutional officers will leave California airspace, and the reign of Acting Governor (and Superintendent of Public Instruction) Tom Torlakson will begin. Will he sign legislation? Appoint judges? Issue a proclamation declaring July 19th (his birthday) as “Tom Torlakson Day in California” from now on? Probably not, but it will be an interesting moment in California history.

Finally, for the record, in case Governor Tom leaves the state between July 25th-28th, the state will pass into the hands of Acting Governors Kevin Mullin or Diane Harkey (with Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones expected to attend the DNC and Equalization Chair Fiona Ma definitely going to serve as Vice Chair of the DNC Credentials Committee).

Footnote: California has never had a Governor Tom before. Somehow, although we’ve had four named John and four named George (and even had a Goodwin, Culbert, Romualdo and a Hiram) we’ve never had a Tom before.