Commentary: More hypocrisy from California politicians

The Sacramento BeeFebruary 5, 2010 

Those outside the trade occasionally ask political journalists whether spending one's working life listening to the self-serving speeches of politicians and watching their antics becomes tiresome.

Watching politics, like watching sausage-making, does tend to make one somewhat leery of the final product, to paraphrase an old saying. There is, however, another side to professional political voyeurism — being entertained as politicians preen and puff and then face the consequences when reality intrudes.

That's why hypocrisy is a mainstay of political reporting, and why the public responds so readily to do-as-we-say-not-as-we-do stories. We couldn't help but be amused, for instance, when a "pro-family" Republican legislator was caught on videotape boasting of his sexual exploits with a lobbyist and forced to resign.

Titillating scandals aside, what really grabs us is the tendency of politicians to impose burdens on others while exempting themselves. If three members of a five-member school board meet privately to discuss school district business, to cite one example, it's a violation of state law. But while passing the anti-secrecy Brown Act, the Legislature allows majorities of its own members to "caucus" behind closed doors on legislation.

By the same token, legislators frequently complain about – and sometimes legislate on – corporate chicanery. But they annually pass state budgets that contain exactly the sort of financial flimflam – phantom revenues and hidden liabilities – that would put them in jail were they corporate executives.

While tens of thousands of state employees deal with a 15 percent salary cut via three-day-a-month furloughs, the Legislature continues to manipulate its schedule to keep "per diem" payments flowing to its members seven days a week. It's about $35,000 per year in tax-free extra income, more than many furloughed workers earn.

Sometimes, politicians make it almost too easy to spot hypocrisy – perhaps because they're so cloistered they can't see it.

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