I was going to write a commentary expressing my frustration at a chunk of the California State Legislature participating in an annual junket to Maui. As I started, I realized that I have already written this commentary – several times. Below is my commentary from last year, which other than the reference to a parallel junket to Kauai which I don’t think is taking place this year, is still relevant today.
To be clear, there are two separate, issues here — relative to critiquing the thought process of a legislator participating in the junket. The first is whether they think it is appropriate for these special interests (who have vested interests in the legislation on which they vote) to fund their junket – laundering it through a non-profit. The second question, which I think is probably a more significant one, is why they think it is a good idea, in a time of significant budget cuts and belt tightening, to be traveling with a pack of their colleagues to Hawaii at all. If you can afford to go to Hawaii – great, take your family and enjoy a discrete, private vacation. But participating in this high-profile conference conveys either a hubris and lack of sensitivity to the situation — or a stunning lack of thought about how this looks to the public… Not good either way…
OK…. My Maui Junket commentary from last year…
Legislators Participating In Hawaii Junket Show Poor Judgement
Posted by Jon Fleischman at 12:00 am on Nov 17, 2010
No matter who you talk to everyone agrees — California’s finances are totally screwed up. Whether you are on the ideological left, fretting over what the sour economy means for social spending, or on the right, concerned about how the private sector will recover without regulatory relief from onerous state regulations and taxes –there is consensus around the idea that state government is in turmoil.
In the private sector, unemployment in California is in double-digits. A lot of people are out of work, and many others are taking big pay cuts. In the public sector, we are seeing workers furloughed and increasing pressure to reduce the size of the state workforce.
So you have to wonder, with this as the backdrop, what decision-making process goes through the mind of dozens of legislators who have gone off to Kauai and Maui for a pair of “conferences” at resort hotels, with their expenses being paid for by either “non-profits” funded by big businesses or state employee unions — or else paid for our of their personal campaign funds (which are, in almost every case, also heavily padded by the aforementioned big businesses or state employee unions).
I am not asserting that there is anything illegal about these trips or how they are financed. But I will say there seems to be some insensitivity and tone deafness to participating in such events at this time.
Everyone in the “real world” has to make very real decisions about what they are going to sacrifice from their family budget to afford a vacation like that. It is perhaps indicative of the Fantasyland that is the California State Capitol that legislators can enjoy a vacation conference at one of the world’s most luxurious resorts with no impact on their own personal budget.
Prospectively, we would encourage public officials to beg off of these kinds “sponsored” luxury trips in the future. They only serve to reinforce a disconnect between everyday people and their elected officials.
There is also a fundamental disservice done to the majority of legislators who did not participate, as the shroud of secrecy and non-reporting leaves the curious constituent wondering if their representatives were enjoying “free” fruity drinks in the tropics, or not.