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Bill Kennedy: Tribute to a citizen politician

Right Here Right Now

Posted: August 27, 2010 9:33 a.m.
Updated: August 27, 2010 9:33 a.m.
 

Four weeks ago today, we lost a great man.

On July 30, brain cancer took from us Dr. Keith Richman, former state assemblyman for our 38th District, champion of the people and a great friend.

Richman was a successful doctor, self-made businessman, thriving entrepreneur and activist politician. That combination of skills and experience, coupled with his profound faith in democracy, made him eminently qualified to be a trustee of the people's will in elected office.

After his election to the Assembly in 2000, Richman literally hit the ground running, introducing several bills in his first few days of office. A self-described "mainstream moderate," he tackled his public duties like everything else in his storied career - with great drive, passion, intelligence and a steadfast desire to help others.

In that first year, the California Journal named him the Assembly's "Rookie of the Year" for his moderate, cooperative nature and ambitious legislation. Later, he was named "Legislator of the Year."

He also received California's Radical Centrist of the Year Award from RadicalCentrism.org. Radical centrism is the practice of countering the extreme arguments of an issue so emphasis may be properly placed on the excluded middle - a very apt description of Richman's style.

The only physician in the Assembly, Richman was a strong advocate for health care. His principal concerns were to contain the rapidly escalating cost of medical care and to get covered millions in the state who are uninsured. He was particularly concerned about those he called the "young invulnerables," the 18- to 35-year-olds who forego health insurance at great peril.

Richman's proposed solutions to the health-care crisis included mandated basic insurance coverage for all, the establishment of purchasing pools for cost efficiency and transferability of basic health insurance policies from job to job.

Though a man of comfortable means, achieved through his success as a doctor and businessman, Richman lived modestly, and conscientiously applied his philosophy of personal fiscal prudence to government. Early on, he recognized entitlements offered to state and local government retirees threatened the state's fiscal health.

Unfortunately, his efforts to reform pensions were rebuked by legislative colleagues bowing to pressure from the public unions that hold inordinate power over career politicians with ambitions for future public office.

Today, Richman's early predictions of dire consequences resulting from the irresponsible fiscal policies are sadly proving true while many career politicians who shied away from the solution have moved on to other government jobs.

Richman felt so strongly about the need to stave off fiscal suicide that he continued the fight on behalf of the people even after he left office. He established the California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility which, according to its charter, is "committed to educating the public and key decision makers about California public employee retirement benefit issues and developing fiscally responsible solutions that are fair to employees, employers and taxpayers." We can only hope that the foundation will soon muster enough public support for reform to overcome the influence of the unions and others who would sacrifice the state's fiscal health for personal gain.

I got to know Richman personally through my wife, Cathy. As constituents, we admired his principled approach to politics.
In 2002, Cathy accepted a staff position as his field representative for the Santa Clarita Valley, and we became part of the
team Richman treated as family.

It was easy to like Richman. His overpowering intellect, sharp command of facts, righteous reasoning and ready sense of witty humor were attractive qualities, but it was his unflinching dedication and caring for people that sealed the deal. Here was a man of exceptional talents who was a true servant of the people, putting their interests well ahead of his own.

Indeed, Richman always seemed happiest when he was able to engage the public in the affairs of government. In 2006, with sponsorship by Valencia Acura and KHTS AM-1220, he arranged to bus some 50 local citizens to Sacramento to meet with legislators on both sides of the aisle. It was his sense that local citizens could be far more convincing in advocating local issues in person, en masse - and he was right.

The trip was sufficiently successful, so much so that it has become an annual tradition that brings meaningful attention to our interests.

By taking an unselfish long-term view, placing his constituents needs first and bringing to bear his many diverse life experiences, Keith Richman personified the citizen politician our founding fathers envisioned for our country. The world would be better off if we had more like him - Right Here, Right Now.

Bill Kennedy lives in Valencia and is a principal in Wingspan Business Consulting, chairman of the Santa Clarita Valley Economic Development Corp. and a planning commissioner. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of these organizations or The Signal. He can be reached at wkennedy@wingspanbusiness.com.

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