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Column: Reinforcing bad behavior

Businesses (including agriculture) need to “think of your lawmakers as children,” says James Brulte. And in many cases, he says, the behavior of these children “should be punished, not rewarded.”

Brulte, himself a 14-year veteran of the California legislature (now a senator from the state’s 31st district) and a close advisor to President Bush, has been described as “the most powerful elected Republican in California” (that was before Arnold Schwarzenegger became governor, but he and The Terminator are said to be close buds).

He pulls no punches in analyzing and critiquing the political process. And while his comments at the recent annual conference of the Western Plant Health Association were in reference to California, they could as well apply to almost any other state or national governmental situation.

“If you take the total of the business community’s financial contributions to politicians,” Brulte says, “business gives more than half of its money to those who vote against its interests six out of 10 times.

“As an employer, I don’t think you’d allow an employee to act against your business’ interests six times out of 10. Yet, you contribute to legislators who do just that. You’re rewarding and reinforcing bad behavior. It should be punished, not rewarded.”

Businesses, Brulte says, should take a cue from labor and trial lawyer organizations. “Over 95 percent of their contributions go to lawmakers who vote for them 95 percent of the time. Don’t think that’s lost on us legislators — we’re smart people when it comes to figuring out how to get votes and money. This situation’s not going to change until you in the business community start treating us like your children.”

When one “dispassionately analyzes” the California legislature, he says, there are two key groups that hold power: (1) labor and trial lawyers — “they’re always on the offense and they always play to win” — and (2) the business community, “which is usually playing defense; they get involved in politics mostly because they have to.”

Once, Brulte says, the two groups just wanted a level playing field. “But now, organized labor wants a built-in structural advantage, and they use the legislative process to expand their opportunities.”

In dissecting the unprecedented California recall vote that kicked out Gov. Gray Davis and replaced him with Schwarzenegger, Brulte says Davis “wasn’t willing to spend his popularity capital” to deal with the state’s problems. Had Davis taken two or three steps early on in the energy crisis that nearly wrecked the state financially, “it would’ve been only a small problem — instead it became a major problem.”

It really doesn’t matter, Brulte says, whether the legislature is controlled by Democrats, Republicans, liberals, or conservatives.

The key is that “someone in government has to be an adult, and it has to be the chief executive (the governor). The legislature is constitutionally incapable of adult action; it is polarized almost to the point of dysfunction. If the chief executive is a strong leader, the legislature will follow — and Arnold Schwarzenegger has figured that out. California is better off today with him in office.”


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