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The Sacramento Bee, Calif., Dan Walters column
[August 10, 2012]

The Sacramento Bee, Calif., Dan Walters column

Aug 10, 2012 (The Sacramento Bee - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Let's not mince words about what the state Senate's Democratic leader did Wednesday. It was self-serving censorship, the sort of thing that one expects from tinpot dictators, not from those who fancy themselves to be progressive civil libertarians.

Someone acting for Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg suddenly cut off cable television access to a legislative hearing to air facts and arguments about pending ballot measures.

The Senate Governance and Finance Committee called the hearing -- as required by law -- into three tax increases (Propositions 30, 38 and 39) and altering the state's budgetary procedures (Proposition 31).

As it opened, the committee's chairwoman, Democrat Lois Wolk, said she hoped that the testimony would help voters make reasoned decisions about the highly controversial measures.

But only the few people in the hearing room and those technologically savvy enough to tune into an Internet audio feed heard Wolk's words.

Just before the hearing was to be telecast on the California Channel, a public affairs channel carried on most cable systems, somebody from the Senate told Cal Channel to cut it off.

It's obviously bad business that Capitol politicians can control what the public sees of their activities. But this is an especially egregious example of manipulating that power for political purposes.

It wouldn't take a Mars rocket scientist to figure out why Democrats didn't want the hearing to be broadcast.

One witness was to be Jon Coupal of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, who opposes Proposition 30, the sales and income tax measure that Steinberg is fervently supporting. And he would most likely dwell on the Senate staff raises that Steinberg had granted as an example of why taxes should not be raised.

Coupal, in fact, made exactly that point, but that's what the hearing was about -- airing the arguments and counterarguments along with factual information from the Legislature's budget analyst.

Steinberg spokesman Rhys Williams said this: "It was inappropriate to provide legislative resources to promote the ballot measure campaigns of either side, and in particular to make those public-funded resources easily available for exploitation in political TV commercials. No different than the rules that apply to legislative staff." Balderdash. You could say the same thing about any hearing or any legislative debate on any issue. In any event, it's still blatant censorship.

Steinberg made Wolk look like a fool when she touted her hearing as a way to inform the public. He owes her an apology.

More importantly, he owes 38 million Californians an apology for denying them access to a public hearing of their Legislature for crassly political motives. And he owes them a promise never, ever to do it again.

Call The Bee's Dan Walters, (916) 321-1195. Back columns, walters. Follow him on Twitter @WaltersBee.

___ (c)2012 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.) Visit The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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