Accountability for California Lawmakers Soon to Grow Dimmer
Back in 2014, California state senator Mark DeSaulnier held hearings on the new span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, $5 billion over budget, 10 years late, and still riddled with safety issues. Witnesses testified that Caltrans, the state’s department of transportation, compromised public safety by ignoring problems with the bridge’s welds, bolts, rods, and too-brittle Chinese steel. One whistleblower called for a criminal investigation. Californians across the state were able to watch the hearing on the California Channel, but such observation will not be possible after October, when the California Channel ceases operations.
Like its model C-SPAN, the California Channel provided “gavel to gavel” coverage of the legislature and other government proceedings, unedited and without editorial comment. The California Cable and Telecommunications Association funds the California Channel, which claims to receive no state funding. On the other hand, the channel was subject to a certain level of state government control. In 2012, Senate President Darrell Steinberg shut down the live feed of a Senate Governance and Finance Committee hearing on Propositions 30, 31, 38 and 39, every one a measure on taxes and spending. In his lame apology, Steinberg claimed, “I pride myself on being open and transparent.”
As California Channel viewers have learned, Senate proceedings do more than crunch numbers. In February 2017, the legislature feted New Left icon Tom Hayden, a former state senator. Sen. Janet Nguyen rose to speak out against Hayden’s support for the Vietnamese Communist regime that forced so many to flee to America, Nguyen included. The Orange County Republican came to the United States as a refugee in 1981, at the age of five. Senate Democrats told Nguyen to stop speaking, and when she kept on they shut off her microphone and had her physically carted off the Senate floor. After October, Californians won’t be able to see a free-speech smackdown like that on the California Channel.
Channel boss John Hancock told Capitol Weekly the 2016 Proposition 54 “limited the need for the California Channel,” by requiring that the legislature make audio and visual records available within 72 hours. As veteran columnist Dan Walters noted, it would be possible for a bill to be written in secret and escape video exposure within 72 hours. And with legislators in charge, Steinberg-style blackouts will be easier to pull off.
Out of sight often means out of mind. The shutdown of the California Channel is a net loss for accountability in the Golden State.