"Newsmaker of the Week" is presented by the SCV Press Club and Comcast, and hosted by Signal Multimedia Editor Leon Worden. The program premieres every Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. on SCVTV Channel 20, repeating Sundays at 8:30 a.m.
This week's newsmaker is Assemblyman Keith Richman, R-Granada Hills, who represents most of the Santa Clarita Valley. Questions are paraphrased and some answers may be abbreviated for length.
Signal: How is your campaign for state treasurer going?
Richman: The campaign is going great. I'm getting support from around the state, from individuals, from various associations and organizations. Here in Los Angeles, people like Gerry Parsky, Dick Riordan, Bert Boeckmann, Tom McKernan, the head of AAA, lots of people in Sacramento, Orange County, the Bay Area, and various associations like the Building Industry Association, the retailers, the Restaurant Association, the insurance companies, the physicians, the hospitals, the dentists, all have come out in support of me already.
Signal: What do you talk to them about? Do you tell them what a fantastic job the state Legislature is doing lately?
Richman: No, in fact I talk to them about exactly the opposite of that. Two years ago when we had the recall, if all of us would have had the opportunity to recall the entire Legislature, we would have done that.
The Legislature has failed to address the problems that we face here in California, whether you're talking about education we have many districts in the state of California where we have dropout rates for minority students of 50 percent, overall dropout rates of 30 percent; we haven't made the necessary investments in our state's infrastructure roads and highways we all know that; we have problems with affordable housing. We haven't yet solved the energy crisis; we still have a severe supply-demand imbalance on energy here in Southern California and there are risks of recurrent blackouts. So it would be fair to say that the Legislature hasn't addressed any of the problems that the state of California faces.
Signal: What is Keith Richman doing about it?
Richman: I've tried not only to solve specific problems, whether it's the fiscal problems that we face, and played a large part in Propositions 57 and 58 (economic recovery bonds and spending), both from a policy perspective and politically, getting those passed; worked hard on workers compensation reform that was one good thing we did. I've worked on energy, health care, and then I've tried to work in a bipartisan manner, across the aisle to solve the problems that the state of California faces.
One thing I've worked on, and in fact our bipartisan group has worked on, is political reform. Independent redistricting that's been something that you and I have talked about for the last number of years. When the gerrymandering was put in place a few years ago, safe seats were put in place throughout the state of California. In fact, last November, out of 153 seats 80 in the Assembly, 20 state Senate seats and 53 congressional seats none changed hands. With those safe Republican seats and safe Democrat seats, what that's done is essentially made the November general elections meaningless. That has resulted in the primary elections being the key races. In a safe Democratic seat it's the Democratic primary that matters; in a safe Republican seat it's the Republican primary; and that has ended up driving the political debate to the extremes of both political parties in Sacramento.
People have been unwilling to work together, solve the problems and come up with common-sense solutions. In fact, last year, our bipartisan group worked with a conservative think tank, the Rose Institute at Claremont (University); we worked with U.C. Berkeley, Bruce Cain; we came up with an agreed-upon redistricting measure and we had 12 coauthors in the Legislature six Republicans and six Democrats. And that measure didn't even get a second in committee. We reintroduced the measure this year, both in the Assembly and the senate; Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) introduced a third measure; those measures for independent redistricting, for good government, did not even get set for committee hearings.
Signal: It sounds like the Legislature isn't going to fix itself anytime soon.
Richman: It isn't. The Legislature wants to maintain the status quo and it wants to maintain the interests of the special-interest groups on both sides. The Legislature is being run by the special-interest groups. And when I say "run," I don't mean influenced or subtle advice; I mean literally controlled. The special-interest groups have veto power.
The situation now in California is no different than it was in the early 1900s when the state government was controlled by a small group of special-interest groups and at that time it was the railroads. In fact another example is the federal government in the early 1900s you remember the trusts that existed at that time, and the trust-busting that needed to occur? There was an interesting series of articles at that time called, "the treason of the Senate," the United States Senate, and it was a series of articles that described United States senators that they thought were owned by the Standard Oil Co. The situation here in Sacramento now is exactly the same, where the special-interest groups absolutely control what's going on.
Signal: Who's the biggie today?
Richman: Because the Democrats control the Legislature, it's the public employee unions and the trial attorneys. That's who is calling the shots and directing what goes on in Sacramento.
Signal: We've heard a little bit out of some of the public employee unions in the current election cycle.
Richman: We've heard a lot, and that's because they don't want any changes to the status quo, and that's really what this election is about.
When Gov. Schwarzenegger talks about bringing the government back to the people, restoring our representative democracy and breaking the grasp of the special-interest groups in Sacramento, that's really what it's about. The independent redistricting measure is for good government. That's going to result in more competitive seats in the state of California
Signal: You're talking about Proposition 77.
Richman: Proposition 77 for independent redistricting. That's going to bring representatives to Sacramento who are more inclined to solve problems, rather than continue the partisan gridlock and dysfunction that exists in Sacramento.
Signal: What fun it is if we don't know in advance who's going to win the election?
Richman: That's exactly the point. It's a lot more fun when you don't know it in advance and it's not preordained who's going to win the election. Because that's going to make those representatives who are going to Sacramento more responsive to the people. You know, we have legislative districts now that extend almost 200 miles in the state of California.
Signal: Rep. Buck McKeon's district goes all the way to Nevada.
Richman: It does, and we have state districts that extend 200 miles up and down the coast due to this gerrymandering. It's very important, if we're going to get representatives to Sacramento that are going to work to solve problems.
Signal: These are a lot of the same arguments we heard with term limits a small handful of people called the shots in Sacramento, so the voters decided not to keep the politicians there long enough to keep everything in gridlock.
Richman: You know what I think? It's not on the ballot this November, but I think term limits need to be modified, also.
Term limits are too short right now, and what they've done is a number of things. First of all, legislators don't take a long-term view. They always have a short-term perspective because of the short term limits. The other thing it does, the short term limits put more power in the bureaucracy and also in the lobbyists who represent those special-interest groups. So I think term limits should be modified. We shouldn't get rid of them, but currently, term limits are six years in the Assembly, eight years in the state Senate, and I think it would be a good idea if we combined that and said, OK, a legislator could have 14 years total and serve in either house. That would be a good idea.
I think the combination of the short term limits, the gerrymandering that was done, some of the campaign finance reform that has had serious unintended consequences, has really put more power in special-interest groups in Sacramento. All of these things together have compounded the problem.
Signal: But with term limits, if we're sweeping people out every six or eight years, how is redistricting going to change things? Won't the lobbyists still have the power?
Richman: I'll tell you what's happened with the gerrymandering and the safe districts. If you're running in a safe Republican district, as an example, and you know that the Republican primary is the key race, you don't want somebody who's going to flank you on the right, or be more Republican than you are. Or if you're a Democrat and you're running in a safe Democrat seat, you don't want somebody who's going to flank you on the left and be more of a Democrat. So what that ends up doing, that ends up driving the political debate to the extremes of both political parties.
Those representatives are going to toe the party lines, or the agendas, that are set by those special-interest groups. They're not going to break away from those agendas at all, because they know that they're going to need the support of those special-interest groups to get reelected. Or, because of the short term limits, they're going to need the support of those special-interest groups to get elected to their next seat, whether it's the state Senate or any other seat. So what's happening is, legislators are simply abiding by the agendas of the special-interest groups on both sides of the political aisle.
People are unwilling to work together, they're unwilling to talk, they're unwilling to compromise, and they're unwilling to solve the problems that the state of California faces. And we all know that. We know that our fiscal situation has not been solved; we still have a structural deficit of $6 billion or $7 billion next year; we still have our education problems, our infrastructure issues, and I can go on down the line.
Signal: Let's go down the line on the ballot. Arnold's ballot measures, 74, 75, 76, 77. Some of these seem like fairly radical ideas; they'll impact teachers by extending tenure from two years to five; critics say the unions won't be able to spend their members' money on political campaigns anymore; and with 76, they make it sound like you're going to take all the money away from education.
Richman: Let's take them one at a time. I don't really think that you think they're very radical; in fact, I don't think they're very novel concepts at all.
Proposition 74 is the measure regarding teacher tenure, and what that says is, rather than working two years and getting tenure, a teacher is going to have to work five years in order to get tenure. I don't know about you, but I don't have tenure in the Legislature; in fact, after six years I'm thrown out. And I don't think you have tenure at the newspaper, and most people don't get tenure anyway. So I think it's pretty fair and the right thing to do, for somebody to work for five years as a teacher rather than two years before they get tenure. That's what Proposition 74 is.
Signal: Isn't California having a tough enough time finding teachers? Why make it harder?
Richman: I don't think that's going to impact the difficulty of getting teachers at all or not. Because if somebody is a good teacher and they have confidence in themselves, they're going to continue to work for five years.
There are going to be a lot of instances, and there have been a lot of instances, where school districts have let teachers go after two years because they're unwilling to give the teacher more time to see whether in fact that person can do a good job. So I don't assume that it's going to make it any harder or any less hard to get teachers. What it does is it says you've got to work for five years before you get tenure.
Proposition 75 that's another novel concept.
Signal: Yeah, you're trying to bust the unions.
Richman: That's a measure that says if you're a member of a public employee union, you've got to give written consent every year to make a political contribution. That's all it says. It says, rather than your telling the union that they have to come after you and offer you the opportunity to opt out, you have to opt in. That's all it says.
Just like we all, on a piece of paper, say if we want our privacy information shared, we opt in; what this measure says is, if you're a member of a public employee union, you need to give your consent to make a political contribution to that union every year. That's all it does.
Signal: Doesn't the ability of a union to spend money how it wants level the playing field against the corporations? Shell Oil doesn't have to ask its employees before Shell spends money on a political campaign.
Richman: Shell Oil doesn't take money out of its employees' salaries every month in order to make political contributions. (The situation is) very different. All this measure does is it says the union needs the consent of the individual in order to take their money to make those political contributions.
Shell Oil doesn't take their employees' money every single month to make those political contributions. So I think in fact, your analogy was a very good analogy, why we need Proposition 75.
Signal: Proposition 76. You're talking bout throwing out Proposition 98, which guarantees school funding. Now you're going to take that guarantee away.
Richman: It doesn't take it away at all. It takes away one of the test measures in Proposition 98.
There are three measures, Test 1, Test 2 and Test 3; it takes one away, and in fact in all likelihood, what it will do is smooth out education funding.
The legislative analyst's office, which writes a report on each of the ballot initiatives, has said that the likely result of Proposition 76 will be that it will smooth out spending so that when there are years where revenues increased a lot, then yes, the spending for school districts may be a little less than it would be otherwise. But in down year, like there have been the last few years not this year then what it would do is smooth out spending and the drop in education funding would not be as great. So the real effect on education funding would be that it would smooth it out over time.
But Proposition 76, the main purpose of that is so that we don't get into the fiscal problems that we're in now, again. What it really does is it says you can't raise spending more than the average of the last three years. It says that if in fact the projected revenues drop during the middle of the year, then the governor can make mid-year spending changes so that we don't end up with a deficit of $4 billion or $5 billion at the end of the year.
The third thing it does is it says, if the Legislature doesn't pass a budget by June 30 and you know that that never happens then the budget that's in place continues until the Legislature passes the new budget.
The other thing it does, importantly and particularly important for areas like Santa Clarita is it closes the loophole on the transportation accounts, so that that money that's in the transportation accounts can't be stolen any more and put into the general fund.
In the last few years, other than this year, the transportation money from Proposition 42, the sales tax on gasoline, has been used to close the deficit in the general fund, rather than going to transportation projects. So Proposition 76 says, the money that's supposed to go to transportation is going to go to transportation projects.
Signal: We've heard all sorts of school people telling us how the governor took money away from education this year. Isn't 76 just a big plot so that he doesn't have to pay it back?
Richman: You know, it's really not. In fact, we didn't take money away from education this year. The spending on education at the state level was increased by $3 billion.
Let me repeat that. The spending on education was increased by $3 billion. The average spending per pupil in the state of California went from a little over $7,000 in the fiscal year that ended June 30, to a little over $7,400 in the current fiscal year. When you add in the federal dollars that are available for education, that means the average spending per pupil here in the state of California is $10,200.
Let me put it another way. With the increase of $3 billion, the increase in education spending exceeded the growth in enrollment and cost-of-living increases by a couple of percentage points. So education is getting more money than they've ever gotten before in the state of California.
Signal: Under the Proposition 98 guidelines, there should have been yet another $2.9 billion for education. Don't you think that if that $2.9 billion had been provided, California might not be sitting 44th in the nation in per-pupil funding?
Richman: In fact we're not 44th in the nation.
Signal: But Jack O'Connell, the state Superintendent of Public Instruction, said so.
Richman: You can go right to the National Education Association Web site and you'll see that we're No. 25. the NEA Web site. But you know what? If there was a correlation between how much you spent and how well school districts did, let me tell you something: The highest spending on school districts in the United States is in Washington D.C., and they have about the lowest-performing schools.
We all want to spend more money on schools; we also want our money spent wisely. We've got a lot of money being spent on bureaucracy now rather than getting into the classroom. I think there are a lot of things that we need to do to ensure that our money is being spent better, but it's important to recognize that just throwing more money after a broken system is not going to solve the problem.
Signal: Why do you think we're hearing so much opposition to 74, 75, 76 and 77, and how much does "what happens next" in Sacramento hinge on the passage of these initiatives?
Richman: I think it's very important. I think these initiatives are really just the beginning of trying to restore our representative democracy.
I think they're critical. Now, why do we hear so much opposition to it? Because there are a whole lot of special-interest groups that don't want anything to change. They don't want districts to change. They want to continue to have the same influence in Sacramento that they have now. Or they don't want to change the way our spending is done because even though we have a structural deficit that continues $6 billion to $7 billion, they don't want to solve that problem. There are a lot of people who don't want to change the status quo in Sacramento.
If we asked everybody in the community whether they think Sacramento is working, or whether it's solving the problems that California faces, overwhelmingly they would say, no it's not working, and no, the state government is not addressing the problems that we face.
So this election is about change. It's about beginning to restore our representative democracy and getting things to work better in Sacramento. That's what independent redistricting is about, that's what the spending limit, Proposition 76, "live within our means," is about; that's what Proposition 75 is about. And in fact I think we're going to need more fundamental political changes as we go forward.
As I said, I think we're going to need to have a modification of term limits, campaign finance reform, and I think we're going to need some legislative changes, also. So this is really just the beginning, I believe, of restoring our democracy in Sacramento.
Signal: If it's about restoring democracy, if it's about getting the state's house in order, why pick on the education community? A lot of it 74, 75, 76, are directly targeted at teachers, unions, education.
Richman: Well no, they're not. They're really not. (Proposition) 74 is focused on teacher tenure. But 76, most importantly, is for fiscal responsibility. In fact, 76 says we're going to spend within our means; we're not going to spend more than we take in. It says we're going to not increase our spending more than we can. It says if the governor is faced with a situation where revenues drop, he can adjust the budget. It says we're going to keep that money in transportation accounts where it's supposed to be. I could say Proposition 76 is about closing the loophole on the transportation accounts so we're sure that we spend our money on transportation, where we all said it should go.
Proposition 76 is not focused on education spending at all. Proposition 76 is focused on being fiscally responsible. Because to this point in time, the Legislature has not had the political will necessary to put in a balanced budget in the state of California.
Signal: Propositions 78 and 79 aren't part of the governor's ballot-measure package. The pharmaceutical industry has spent about $80 million top support the passage of 78 and oppose the passage of 79.
Richman: Let me talk (about) both together, because they're similar in a lot of ways.
Both Propositions 78 and 79 are about a discount drug program. There are some differences, but let me say right off the bat, I strongly oppose Proposition 79. The reason I oppose Proposition 79 is because it allows attorneys to sue drug companies and pharmacies if they think the price that's being charged is unreasonable. It says anybody can go and sue the pharmaceutical companies, the pharmacists, or other organizations if they think the price is unreasonable.
Signal: But you can sue them today if the price is unreasonable.
Richman: No, in fact you can't. That would be a change in state law. You can't go out and sue your pharmacy if you think that they're charging whatever an unreasonable price is. So that's going to result in many more lawsuits in the state of California, and for that reason alone, I would not support Proposition 79.
Proposition 79 also says to the state of California that if a drug company doesn't agree to a discount, then you can't contract with them for MediCal. in fact that may be illegal; the federal government has never approved that type of thing; so Proposition 79 may not come into effect just because of that one provision alone.
Proposition 78, as you said, is a measure that is sponsored by the drug companies. I don't have a strong opinion one way or the other on Proposition 78. What that will do is provide a drug discount to individuals or families that earn less than 300 percent of the poverty level. The likelihood is it will result in fairly significant discounts, maybe in the range of 20, 30 or 40 percent for those lower income individuals.
Where I wouldn't support Proposition 79 in any way, Proposition 78 is something that I could support, but again, I don't feel strongly about it one way or another.
Signal: Proposition 79 would effectively force drug companies to lower prices
Richman: What it would do is, it says that if you want to sell your drugs through the state of California with MediCal, then you need to agree to the drug discount plan.
Signal: Proposition 78 wouldn't force anybody to discount prices, but it would allow them to so why is Proposition 78 even needed? Couldn't drug companies decide to cut prices on their own right now?
Richman: You know what, you're not hearing the passion in my voice on either one of those. I would think it would be OK if an individual voted no on both of those measures, 78 and 79.
Signal: What is driving the high cost of health care today?
Richman: That's a very good question, because when you look at health-care costs in general, pharmaceuticals make up about 10 percent of the spending in health-care costs in general. So even if you reduced pharmaceutical costs by 20 percent or 30 percent, you're talking about a 2 or 3 percent savings in health-care costs in general.
Our health-care costs are skyrocketing here in the state of California. Last year, for a family of four, the average premium was about $10,000; it's been going up at double-digit rates. So that means all of us in the year 2010 might be looking at premiums for a family of four that might cost as much as $20,000. It's unsustainable.
That's being driven by the aging of the population, and it's being driven by new technologies new technologies like MRIs, PET scanning, new technologies like cardiac stents that are coated with medications, or any of the other new technologies that are occurring in health care. Those two things are what are driving the costs in health care.
Signal: What do you like and not like on this ballot?
Richman: I strongly support Proposition 74, 75, 76, 77; I'm probably going to vote no on both Propositions 78 and 79, and I'm going to vote no on Proposition 80.
Signal: What about Proposition 73, parental notification for an abortion?
Richman: What it does is it requires parental notification, but it does a few other things that I think are troublesome, in my view. One, it criminalizes what physicians do, so as a physician, I have concerns about that. It also requires public reporting of what judges do, so I have concerns about that. And then the third thing it does is it puts in the state Constitution what the definition of an "unborn child" is, and so it may impact the availability of abortions as we move forward. So although I strongly support parental notification, I have a lot of serious concerns about Proposition 73.
See this interview in its entirety today at 8:30 a.m., and watch for another "Newsmaker of the Week" on Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. on SCVTV Channel 20, available to Comcast and Time Warner Cable subscribers throughout the Santa Clarita Valley.