Thursday, August 28, 2008

No regrets for Perata, Swanson for missing convention

SACRAMENTO — Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata warned several weeks ago that it could come to this: If there was no budget resolution by Monday, lawmakers would be forced to skip the Democratic National Convention in Denver.

The Oakland Democrat made good on his word, scheduling sessions for every day this week to work on policy bills while he continues his search for two Republican votes he needs to pass the budget, which is now 57 days late. While this is going on in Sacramento, Democrats in Denver are gearing up for Thursday's crowning moment: making Sen. Barack Obama the nation's first black presidential nominee.

"If no one's here, you can't make any progress (on the budget)," Perata said. "If I found the two votes we need and wanted to put up a vote immediately, which I would do, I couldn't do it if everybody was in Denver."

The only other East Bay convention delegate from the Legislature, Assemblyman Sandre Swanson, D-Oakland, has also been vocal about the need to stay in the Capitol to finish the budget — notwithstanding the temptation to witness history. Swanson canceled his flight and convention credentials last week.

"I thought it was important to make a statement that we should be working," Swanson said. "I paid for (airline) tickets, had a room and credentials, but I'm a legislator first. It's foolish to suggest it's not a historic event, but in good conscience I would not feel right on the convention floor Advertisementwhen we should be in Sacramento."

Swanson said he was certain Republicans were hoping Democrats would be in such a hurry to complete the budget in time to go to the convention that "we would compromise our principles. But we weren't taking a bite from that apple."

Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles, had canceled sessions this week after Monday to allow lawmakers to attend the convention. But after taking some heat Wednesday and Thursday.

Perata questioned her decision to initially cancel sessions.

"There are certain fundamental things you don't do, and that was it," he said. "It was an unfortunate choice. I'm pleased they'll come back for a couple of days. But it doesn't rectify the fact that it's been a public relations disaster.

"I was a delegate and was looking forward to the last convention I'd ever attend as a delegate, but I know the rules of the game," he said. "I'm fine. I've met the nominee and I will be a very active and aggressive campaigner on his behalf. But nothing in Denver is more important than being here. I don't miss it a bit."

Bass said it was "unfortunate" that Perata was worried about a "P.R. disaster rather than the real disaster — a budget 56 days late that is hurting our children, our schools, the elderly and the disabled. ... I have said it all along that my No. 1 priority is the budget and I will not be attending the convention."

Republicans also criticized the few Democrats who did make the trip to Denver, including Assemblyman John Laird, D-Santa Cruz, the chairman of the Assembly budget committee. Two senators also attended California's delegation's breakfast Monday, but were back in Sacramento for the Senate's 4 p.m. session.

"Most of us are staying here trying to get work done," said Assembly Republican leader Mike Villines, R-Fresno, who has canceled his plans to attend next week's Republican convention. "Fundamentally, we need to be here and solve the budget problem. Voters would be irate and frustrated if we were out lollygagging while we were supposed to be getting the budget done."

Forcing lawmakers to stay home was an easy call for Perata, but that didn't make it any less poignant.

"This is a historic convention," Perata said. "I certainly understand why people would want to be there, particularly members of the African-American caucus. That's why Sandre not going was quite a statement. But, the judgment you show in times like this either does or does not inspire confidence in people. Sometimes you have to go above and beyond your personal interests."

Swanson said this year's convention would have ranked up there with the 1972 convention, which, as a 23-year old political novice, he attended as a delegate for Shirley Chisholm, the late New York congresswoman and first black presidential candidate.

"I'm very aware of how important emotionally it would have been to be a part of it," he said. "There is a big disappointment of not being there. But I wouldn't do it any other way. Besides, I have a big flat-screen TV, so I'll be watching."

  • Hargrove to retire as CAW president in September
  • Bay Area sends volunteers to Denver
  • Perata drops ‘Dump Denham’ campaign