By Laurel Rosenhall, CALmatters
Inside the California Assembly chamber on the night of June 1, the presiding officer urged lawmakers to recognize former members in their midst, “the honorable Henry Perea and Felipe Fuentes.” In a familiar Capitol ritual, the former assemblymen waved from the balcony as applause rang out from their one-time colleagues.
But the two weren’t just retired lawmakers—they were now lobbyists being paid by oil companies to kill a bill that would soon meet its fate on the Assembly floor below.
That bill, by Democratic Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, aimed to force industry to reduce air pollution that comes from their plants. Garcia knew the lobbyists in the balcony were pals with many of her Assembly colleagues, she knew oil and other industries were working hard to defeat her, and she knew her bill was in danger.
A million people in her industrial Los Angeles neighborhood “have been treated like a wasteland,” Garcia said in frustration, wiping tears from her eyes. Then she cast a glance toward the balcony. “Clean air is a big deal for a lot of Californians,” she said. “You have a choice: Do we all matter?”
Her bill fell six votes short, as moderate Democrats joined Republicans to quash it. The moment marked a win for oil—and revolving-door politics.
Today Garcia cites the lobbyists’ special relationships with current legislators as among the factors to blame for her bill’s demise. “When you have a former member on the floor at the same time they are working for or against the bill,” she said, “you open the opportunity to have access in a way lobbyists normally would not have.”
Sacramento is full of termed-out or retired lawmakers who make second careers as lobbyists, strolling through a “revolving door” between government and the private sector. Current law prohibits ex-legislators from directly lobbying their former colleagues for one year after they leave the Legislature, and a measure on Gov….