Thursday, April 14, 2005

Will Tom Umberg Stay True to his Conscience?

I have always liked California Assemblymember Tom Umberg from Orange County. When he was in the Assembly the first time, before term limits and the "new Orange County," it was what we insiders like to call a tough seat. A Democrat had a genuinely tough time holding onto it and could easily lose to the Republican in the general election. Nonetheless, Tom Umberg voted his conscience. He didn't do what was politically expedient. He did what was right for his constituents.

Now after some 10 years out of the legislature, Tom Umberg's back in a redistricted, term-limited, solidly Democratic seat. After 4 months in office, next week he faces his first big test. On Tuesday, April 19th, the California Clean Money bill is up in the committee he chairs, Assembly Elections and Redistricting. Assembly Bill 583 by Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley) is a serious effort to take special interest money out of politics and make politicians beholden to the right people: the voters. The bill is a California-tailored version of successful public financing laws that have been in place for years in Arizona and Maine.

The buzz is that Chair Umberg will not vote aye on this landmark legislation (which passed out of this committee last year). The other Democrats on his committee, Leno (San Francisco) Levine (Los Angeles), and Klehs (Contra Costa County) say they will vote for the bill. The two Republicans will vote no. If Umberg ducks it, he'll kill the bill for year.

True, the California electorate (certainly in Orange County) has a long way to go before it fully understands public financing of elections. But after a few years, the voters and elected officials of Maine and Arizona, across party lines, love it. They report that the new system has rejeuvenated politics in their states, luring more ethical and accountable people to run for office and win and allowing politicians to focus their efforts on serving their constituents instead of fundraising.

If you live in Orange County or Assemblymember Tom Umberg's district and care about this issue, or if you think Tom Umberg will care what you think, please give his office a call and let him know that you want him to vote YES on AB 583 the California Clean Money bill. (916) 319-2069

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