How well do state legislators represent Californians? And how do you measure whether a legislator is truly fulfilling the wishes of their constituents?
As CalMatters Capitol reporter Sameea Kamal explains in the first of a series of stories, the laws outlining the official duties of California lawmakers are few and far between. Besides defending the US and state constitution; avoiding joining an organization that wants to overthrow the government; and passing the budget in June, lawmakers will have only squishy standards to judge how well they are doing their job. But in a system where merit is not necessarily the end all, what are some criteria we can use?
The answer depends largely on how you view the role of a legislator. Is it their priority to represent the voters who elected them in the first place, or the state as a whole? Or maybe their stance on a particular issue or their allegiance to a political party is more of a priority.
And what happens when those standards conflict with each other?
As a representative from Kern County, where the oil industry is a major employer, Assemblymember Jasmeet Bains voted against a bill in March to punish oil companies for “windfall profits” and suspected increases. in price. The move failed the Democratic Party, and then-Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon took Bains to an important task of the committee (which was later returned).
In a statement at the time, Bains said Kern County “doesn’t have dozens of members of the Legislature to represent our interests,” unlike larger counties. “We need to make sure Kern is at the table to hear our point of view.”
Republican lawmakers, on the other hand, have a party and constituencies aligned with each other, but not with the supermajority Democrats. Assemblymember Joe Patterson of Granite Bay told me in May that this dynamic is “very discouraging.”
- Patterson: “For me, not getting a fair shot to make an argument for my constituents—and that decision being made by someone else who represents the same number of constituents that I do—I don’t think that’s right. “
Aside from ideology, how “successful” a legislator is considered may also depend on the number of bills they pass (although that would put Republican lawmakers at a disadvantage); what leadership positions they hold on committees; or how many constituents they directly assist with issues in state departments or general bureaucratic red tape.
But when it comes to representation in general, perhaps a significant indicator is whether the Legislature reflects the diversity of the state. Although it has not achieved complete equality among its voters, it is the most diverse it has ever been. Yet others argue that much work still needs to be done, such as elevating officials from historically marginalized communities to leadership positions.
- Jennifer Paluch, research associate at the Public Policy Institute of California, wrote in a post: “Diversity is important at all levels of government… to encourage future leaders and reformers who see themselves in the faces of their representatives, so that different views and ideas continue to improve public debate and create better informed policies.