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Erasing History

I wrote here recently about the case of the disappearing ebooks. Now, something else has gone missing. This time, it is the official record of a controversial vote in the California Assembly.

On July 24, the Assembly voted 43 to 28 to reject a bill that would have allowed new drilling for oil and gas to be conducted from existing platforms off the Santa Barbara County shoreline. Then the Assembly decided to expunge the vote from the official record. According to the record, the vote never happened.

Republicans say the record was erased at the behest of Speaker Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles. Others (Democrats) claim that Republican leader Sam Blakeslee was the one behind the move, since the constituents of his coastal district were unlikely to be pleased by his vote for the drilling plan. Either way, when Assembly Majority Leader Alberto Torrico, D-Fremont, made the motion to expunge, no one rose to object.

The author of the drilling bill, Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, R-Irvine, was upset by his colleagues’ decision. “The whole thing seems to me rather Orwellian. It does strike me as trying to take an inconvenient historical fact and shoving it down the memory hole,” he told The San Francisco Chronicle.

The legislators did not succeed in fully suppressing this inconvenient truth, however. The proceedings were aired live on the California Channel, and the channel is expected to make the video footage available on its website. Also, a paper copy of the votes was distributed on the Assembly floor before the decision to expunge was made. DeVore has released the information from this printout to the media, and any interested party can see the full list of how each member of the Assembly voted here.

This is not the first time the members of the Assembly have decided they would rather not be accountable for their choices. While votes on bills that pass must remain on the record, 71 votes on rejected bills have been erased in the past six years. Votes dealing with drug laws, criminal penalties, health care and the state lottery have all been removed from the record, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Shannon Murphy, a spokeswoman for Bass, said that “occasionally the procedural step of expunging a vote is necessary.” I suppose that’s true, if lawmakers’ cowardice and self-interest can make something “necessary.” What really is necessary, of course, is better rules and better legislators.

Californians already know this. Last week, the Public Policy Institute of California released a poll showing that California’s legislators’ approval ratings had sunk to a record low of 17 percent. With these kinds of shenanigans, it is amazing the pollsters could find 17 people in every 100 who approve.

This is not just a California problem, unfortunately. We all have a stake in the country’s most populous state, one whose economy would be the world’s eighth-largest if it were independent. California is struggling mightily to maintain access to the capital markets as it tries to solve financial problems that are crippling state government. But investors must think seriously about whether it makes any sense to buy the state's bonds.

I try to do business only with counterparties that are honest and forthcoming. Those characteristics are very hard to find in Sacramento.

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