Summary: Profile of California Assemblyman Richman touches on citizens assembly proposal (skip to end of article)
Publication: Los Angeles Daily News
Title: Richman frustrated by system; Valley 'mayor': Sacramento is no place for moderates
Date: July 8, 2006
By:RICK ORLOV, Staff Writer
For the article, click here.
When he was elected to the state Assembly six years ago, Keith Richman was no wide-eyed idealist.
A physician, Richman already had built an $80 million health care group and been involved for years in local political issues when he won election to the Assembly in 2000 as a moderate Republican with an optimistic view of politics. Two years later, he won a majority of the vote as the candidate for mayor of the San Fernando Valley during the failed cityhood effort.
"I went up there (to Sacramento) to try to solve problems," the Northridge lawmaker said in a lengthy interview last week. "But the problem in Sacramento for a moderate is that most of the time moderates lose.
"What I found out very quickly is that the special interests - on both sides of the aisle - pretty much call all the shots."
As the 52-year-old Richman serves his final months in office under term limits, he is reflective on his tenure and said he has no regrets - only frustration with a system hemmed in by partisan politics and ideology.
Despite the constraints, Richman is widely credited with playing a key role in pushing through workers' compensation reform, crafting a plan to help the state deal with a $30 billion deficit, and emphasizing state infrastructure investment.
Richman also joined with several Democratic lawmakers in proposing compromises on energy, tax and health care issues facing the state.
But his frustration grew quickly even though Richman, a rare moderate in the Legislature, started on a fast track and earned the title Rookie Legislator of the Year his first year in the Assembly.
He quickly began to hear that Republican Party leaders - as well as the anti-tax and conservative ideologues - did not take kindly to his open discussions with moderate Democrats.
Richman said his Democratic colleagues were receiving the same complaints from public-employee unions and trial lawyers.
"It got so bad that at one point a group of us moderates - Democrat and Republican - left the Capitol to meet so no one would see us discussing issues," Richman said.
"It was so unusual to have people from both parties meeting to discuss solutions to issues. And when folks heard about it, there were editorials written against us."
Bob Stern, of the Center for Governmental Studies, said the lessons Richman learned are a fact of political life these days in Sacramento.
"Moderates are a dying breed," Stern said. "Particularly in the Legislature. You see the governor being more moderate these days, but that's because he wasn't challenged in his primary.
"I am not sure if Arnold Schwarzenegger would be governor if it wasn't for the recall," Stern said. "He didn't have to run in a Republican primary. The same problems hurt Keith Richman. He tried to reach across the aisle to Democrats and he was shot down."
Richman ran unsuccessfully for the GOP nomination for treasurer this year, and thinks his moderate positions hurt him.
"We had a very-low-turnout election," Richman said. "I think it was less than 25 percent for Republicans. That means it was just the hard-core conservatives and they were not going to vote for me."
"It seems like the public has largely given up on the political system. They don't have any trust in Sacramento and the system is collapsing from its own weight. It's like dying from a thousand cuts.
"And I worry about our future. We have tremendous unfunded liability for pensions, but how do we make it important to the people and engage them again in the political process? They are fed up and apathetic and cynical. I saw firsthand why they are so cynical.
"We are at a time when our representative democracy is broken and we need to find a way to reinvigorate it."
Richman, who is married with two daughters, said he is uncertain what he will do after his time in the Legislature is up in December, but hopes to concentrate on government reform and pursuing changes that will reduce partisanship in Sacramento.
"When I look at the problems when I came here - pensions, the budget, workers' comp, education, the health care system, the economy - not much has been done," Richman said.
"We were able to get some workers' comp reforms through, but that was only because of the threat of an initiative that would have forced something on us."
Richman attributes the problems to a variety of causes - from term limits to the unintended consequences of campaign-reform measures such as Proposition 34, which limited donations to candidates but not political parties or outside groups.
"With term limits, the special interests can just wait you out," Richman said. "After I got elected, some of them came to me with demands and I ignored them. They couldn't defeat me in my district, but all they had to do was wait and I'm gone with term limits."
As for campaign reform, Richman said all it did was strengthen the role of political parties and independent expenditure committees.
"When you limit what a candidate can raise, they have to go somewhere to get their funding," Richman said. "That means political parties and special-interest groups."
Richman and Stern, among others, believe one option might be a more independent redistricting system that would provide more balance in districts and set up competitive races.
Because of the way districts are now drawn, Richman said, most races are effectively decided during the primaries.
Another possibility would be creation of a Citizens Assembly to monitor how the state is governed.
Richman has been pushing a state constitutional amendment to convene such a session, but it has been locked up in committees.
"I don't know if it will ever get through," Richman said. "I'm afraid it just might stay bottled up."