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Scott Thomas Wilk: Let’s end the town halls and get some coffee

Right Here, Right Now!

Posted: April 29, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: April 29, 2011 1:55 a.m.
 

Last week, I was in Palm Desert, enjoying a much-needed vacation day when I noticed a missed call on my cellphone.

I returned the call to Assemblyman Cameron Smyth, who asked if I would participate in a town hall meeting at Hart High School with Gov. Jerry Brown, regarding his tax-extensions proposal. The audience was to be K-12 school officials and law enforcement. Since community colleges are part of the Prop 98 funding formula, and I serve on the college board, he wanted me to attend. 

“Can I say or ask the governor anything I want?” I asked.

“Of course, the governor wants to have a dialogue,” Smyth replied.

“Then I’m in,” I said.

I was excited about the opportunity. The governor deserves credit for unveiling an honest budget, but he has done nothing to institute the reforms necessary so California can become economically sustainable. In my view, supporting his budget plan will just keep us in the same “Groundhog Day” scenario with nothing to show for it but higher taxes.

Although Brown has reached out to GOP legislators, he has not engaged in any serious discussions regarding a spending cap, tort reform, workers comp reform or anything else that will restrain the growth of government or foster a better business climate.

It’s frustrating, because I have sat down with a number of my left-of-center friends, and, over a cup of coffee, we were able to negotiate a budget deal. I’m perplexed why the governor can’t do the same.

The excitement was high when I entered the cafeteria, where I joined an audience of 150 awaiting the governor and Smyth. According to an L.A.-area reporter, this was the first town hall where the governor’s staff had not selected every participant, and, to his knowledge, it was the first time Republicans had been allowed in a town hall (for the record, there were many Republicans in the room that day). 

The town hall was completely scripted and, frankly, that was to be expected. The governor may have wanted to dialogue, but his staff was attempting to frame a news story: “Schools and law enforcement will be devastated without tax extensions.”

I appreciated all the participants who spoke at the town hall. They were passionate, articulate and you can tell they care about our community and state. 

After the opening speakers, comments from the head table and the governor’s PowerPoint presentation, there wasn’t much time for questions and answers.

Brown entertained a few questions, but it seemed to me he never deviated from his talking points. After about 90-minutes, the staff wanted to wrap up, and Brown asked if there was a contrary opinion in the room — so I sprang to my feet.

Knowing I was going to challenge the governor made my heart start racing, but I believe my point of view is held by the majority of Californians, and he had not heard that message on this day.

Frankly, it’s a blur, but I believed I opened with the need for him to agree to place additional reforms on the ballot. I called for:

Real pension reform: The governor has a 12-point plan that Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Walters has called “fluff.” Public-employment pension costs has risen 2,000 percent over the last decade and, as a result, taxpayers pay more than $3 billion annually, according to the California Tax Foundation.

A hard spending cap: According to the Senate GOP Caucus, if state government had simply limited spending increases to the state’s consumer price index plus population growth each year since FY 1990-91, the state would be swimming in black ink with a $15 billion surplus.

Tort reform: The Institute for Legal Reform’s Lawsuit Climate 2010: Ranking the States, California came in at 46 out of 50 states in the fairness of its litigation environment. 

The L.A. Times reported Brown conceding, “You make an eloquent point from your perspective.” Yet, the governor did not yield on a single point stating these were complicated issues.

The truth is, special-interest groups run Sacramento, and are calling the shots. 

Town hall meetings are not the answer. Real dialogue and commitment to the greater good are. I invite Brown to have coffee with me and my friends, and we can show him how to negotiate a budget solution in 30 minutes or less. 

Scott Thomas Wilk is a member of the California Republican Party and elected member to the Republican Party of Los Angeles County.

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