Ask just about anyone who has hung around the state capitol a while — reporters, lobbyists, staffers — and they will tell you that 98% of our legislators forget who they are and why they are there within two years of being elected.
The external pressure to do the bidding of special interests that supply the campaign cash — and the internal pressure to do the bidding of party bosses who control staffing, committee assignments and the fate of legislation — are so great that few can resist becoming part of the culture of corruption.
Anthony Portantino one of the 2-percenters. He’s no angel, as he likes to point out, but he has talked truth to power on more than a few occasions and taken some stands that require a degree of courage.
He is someone who dared to challenge for the Assembly speakership, someone who refused to back prison realignment and abolition of redevelopment because they were poorly crafted bills, someone who became the lone Democrat to vote against the 2011 budget because no one really knew what was in it, someone who Speaker John Perezpunished for his independence by stripping him of a committee chairmanship and slashing his office budget.
Yet, Portantino defiantly fought back, forcing Perez to release budget records showing how the Assembly spends its money and how it uses its funds as a political weapon to punish and reward.
“In Congress, all the leadership positions are elected, so there is a sharing of power,” Portantino said last week over breakfast at Conrad’s in Glendale. “Here there is no sharing of power because the speaker appoints the leadership team. Back in Willie Brown‘s and Jess Unruh’s day, they understood that to be powerful you had to share it. You had longtime members who had cache, who had the bully pulpit, who had power in their own right and had to be respected.”
Our meeting was kind of an exit interview for Portantino who was termed out after six years in the Assembly and was left with nowhere to go — at least for now — in the game of political musical chairs that has developed under term limits.