On the final day of CLU Masters in Public Policy and Administration’s Sacramento Institute program on February 25th, students met with CA Judicial Council Sr. Attorney June Clark and Assemblymember Cameron Smyth (R-Santa Clarita)
Attorney Clark spoke of the intracacies involved in representing the California Judicial Council, the policymaking body of the California courts (the largest court system in the nation), and its role as the third branch of government in the State.
Assemblymember Smyth also discussed his experience with the budget, his role as Republican Caucus Chair (the second-highest ranking Republic in the State Assembly), and as co-chair of the E3 (Energy, Economy, Environment) task force. He also explained that as a legislator in the minority, he works hard to work together with Democrats in order to pass legislation.
The Sacramento Institute experience was an eye-opener for all students involved as they discovered the process of government in action. I know for one, that as we met people who lobby at the State Capitol, they were in fact not the sneaky, greedy figures we saw in textbooks while growing up. Granted, some of those may still exist there, but from what we saw, they were people just like us who were passionate about what and who they were advocating for. With the advent of term limits, the lobbyists who specialize in particular fields are likely the most informed when it comes to certain bills and legislation and they work to make sure that legislators are aware of all sides. What we also saw were the “after-effects” of the late-night-to-early-morning budget negotiation process that took place a week before we had arrived. We saw tired legislators, some of whom were ill, who recognized that they needed to do whatever they could to get the budget done. The Capitol had been buzzing with budget anticipation for weeks, and now that it was done there were many opportunities to see committee hearings such as one on California and its water supply.
But for all of its history, grandeur, and excitement, the Capitol is also a place of conflict. Here, people from all sides of the spectrum come together to decide what is best for California: For its Beaches, forests, rivers, agricultural lands, deserts, wetlands and mountains; for its diverse population of men, women, and children – of all race and ethnicity. They decide, consider, let linger, and overturn decisions that impact all of us, whether that be gay marriage, health care, education, the environment, budget, and safety. With a State as large and diverse as California, those issues, the institution itself, and the very people that represent us can also hinder us from guiding our State out of the darkest of times. There exists tension between hardline Democrats and hardline Republicans who are unable to work together to get things done, term limits that dampen the ability to establish relationships with those willing to work and learn the nuances of the process, the influence of coalitions of interest groups and lobbyists – the “Third House” in the California Legislature (the other two being the Senate and Assembly), and a Governor who is socially liberal and fiscally conservative who regularly comes to disagreements with the Legislature. Oh, and let’s not forget us voters, who can overturn or create a policy with a referendum or initiative and recall a government official if we so choose.
Knowing, learning, and hearing first-hand accounts of how this happens (or doesn’t happen) makes any Public Policy and Administration student wonder if the words “public,” “policy,” and “administration” should even belong in the same sentence. But somehow, some way, things do end up getting done (though sometimes late – the phrase “better late than never” comes to mind). California is notorious for always pushing through its hardships and coming through in the end, one of the pinnacles of American values. For all of the conflicts that occur in California government, we are the most populated, most famous, most moved-into State in the nation. We have nearly every type of geography and people possible. When you go overseas and people find out you’re from California, you are met with kindness and enthusiasm for our State. With as much variety and diversity as we have, it would only make sense that we would have as much conflict as we do in our government.
With such natural beauty and citizenry, it is in our best interest to make sure that we are all governed in a way that is best for all of us, so that we and future generations of Californians can continue to live, grow, and thrive in our great State – our home.