Democracy demands honest debate and consensus building. Consensus does not mean “caving” to the opposition but understanding where you can negotiate for a more favorable position or piece of legislation, through honest debate of the issues. Key to both debate and consensus building is knowledge of the topic and more importantly, understanding the history and legal implications in the language of a proposed bill.
With Republicans in the minority in both houses of the Legislature, loyal, honest and straightforward senior staff members are not only necessary, but an absolute must to retain. Speaking plainly, there are many more opportunities for staff advancement with the majority party, which of course equates to higher pay and more junior staff to assist. In addition, Legislative Counsel, that writes and opines on the bills presented by members, works for the “House” and the house is run by the majority party.
Bills are dropped on our staff late, with changes in language, oftentimes in unbelievable volumes. While elected legislative members slumber, staff is working all night to write analysis for us to review in the morning. In short, to remain a Republican Caucus staff member requires much humility, a lot of hard work, late hours, quick on the spot analysis, and commitment and belief in our raison d’être.
In addition, with the onset of term limits, institutional knowledge is rarely found outside of key legislative staff. That’s why I was so dismayed to hear that Richard Mersereau, who ran our Assembly Republican caucus staff, was asked to leave after our huge electoral coup. Yes, Richard is a conservative and requested legislation be reviewed through a conservative lens, as appropriate for our Republican caucus. Pros and cons were put forth in the analysis and Oppose and Support recommendations were made. But, it is always within an elected member of the legislature’s purview to determine and cast his or her own vote. Some of our members are fiscal conservatives and social moderates; others are social conservatives and fiscal moderates, and some fluctuate depending on their district needs. We are a diverse group.
Individual members review, ask questions and hear testimony in committee hearings. A member’s personal staff reviews areas of concern, and often individual members cast votes contrary to the caucus recommendation for a variety of reasons. But we all make better judgment calls with full knowledge and disclosure of the benefits and pitfalls in a piece of legislation, especially knowing that we will be questioned and maybe criticized by our constituents for our votes. In the days of Facebook and Tweets bad news travels fast and we need to be equipped to support our positions and respond.
I understand that new leaders have a right to select new staff, but Richard did not belong to Assembly leadership, which changes regularly. He belonged to the caucus members. Changing a Chief of Staff is expected, but removing a strong and trusted voice of and for the caucus right now with so many new and starry-eyed members arriving is unfortunate. The remaining staff will take a cue and criticism will be muted if not silenced. Silencing the critics makes it a lot easier to get things done, but does not do much for informed debate, consensus building or our raison d’être as Republicans in Sacramento.