The third Principle of Political Life is Objectivity: appointments and similar decisions should be made on the basis of merit.
At first glance, this would appear too be the purest of principles: who would argue for appointments on any basis but merit? Well, I would, sort of.
Proposition 140, the second greatest mistake the voters of California have made (after Proposition 13) did several pernicious things with regard to the Legislature:
- it established term limits, thus assuring that the legislative expertise necessary to solving difficult problems disappeared
- it greatly reduced the staffing of the Legislature, thus making sure that power flowed from the Legislative branch of California Government to the Executive branch
- it removed legislators from the public pension system, so that anyone elected to the Legislature who wasn’t rich, anyone who devoted themselves to public service without thought of financial gain, would have difficulties making ends meet after leaving office.
I therefore reluctantly support the appointment of former legislators to Boards and Commissions after they leave office. We must find ways to help people of modest means to attain and retain public office. The alternative is oligarchy.
Barbara Boxer’s recent announcement of her decision not to seek reelection took me back to 1991. My late wife, Senator Pat Wiggins, spent the best part of that year working in a cavernous San Francisco office as the Assistant Financial Officer of Barbara’s first Senate campaign. Her job consisted of processing the thousands of small checks that flowed in from women, women’s groups and a sprinkling of men from around the country who wanted to see more women elected to the U.S. Senate. (1992 may have been the Year of the Woman, but 1991 was the year of women supporting women).
Most nights, Pat stayed at a San Rafael bed and breakfast owned by a friend of Barbara’s, at a cost of most of her meager salary. When I could, I joined her. Sometimes, when I would visit Pat’s office, Barbara, who was then a Congresswoman, would pop in. She was Pat’s age – cute, dynamic and very short. Barbara would tour the various offices, saying hello to everybody, give a brief pep talk, and be off to whatever was the next stop on her hectic schedule. Once or twice, Pat and I were comped to one of her San Francisco fundraisers. At one of them, I had the pleasure of sitting next to Cybill Shepard. For a Hollywood star, she looked acutely uncomfortable to be out in public.