Run, Hertzy, Run

Robert Hertzberg 050211

"What about Bob?" is a hot topic of political gossip in California thesed days.

Former Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg, who has been a leader in the state's governmental reform movement (working both with the foundation-funded California Forward and with billionaire Nicolas Berggruen in his Think Long Committee effort), is considering a run for state senate.

Much of the conversation has been about the pure politics, and the redistricting angle, on Hertzberg's decision.

He'd be taking on a fellow Democrat, Fran Pavley, who has been backed by the top Democrat in the state senate, Darrell Steinberg.

Hertzberg told the Daily News that the proposed senate district where he lives in the San Fernando Valley fits him. If it survives challenges, he'll decide to run.

Whatever you think of Hertzberg personally (and this former LA mayoral candidate is both liked and loathed), a campaign by Hertzberg would be a significant political event, for reasons that go beyond his particular situation and race.

Hertzberg, because of who he is and because of his efforts as a reform, would offer a useful test of a variety of California political premises and hypotheses, some of them previously untested.

Here are five premises that would be tested by Hertzberg.

5. Moderates can gain under redistricting.

Hertzberg is very much a moderate, pro-business Democrat whose candidacy is likely to be opposed by union leaders (who aren't big fans of his efforts to help labor foes such as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger).

The senate district he's targeting would seem to be the kind of place that a moderate would have a chance.

If Hertzberg, a strong and well-known moderate, were to run and lose, it might well refute that premise.

4. Compromise and deal-making can break the political logjam.

Hertzberg is a consummate dealmaker. He once told me he thinks in deals.

He has long experience as a public official, as a behind-the-scenes advisor to public officials, as an attorney, and as an entrepreneur in cutting deals.

Putting Hertzberg back in the legislature would be the acid test of whether dealmaking savvy can make the unworkable California governing system workable.

Pavley's supporters are already arguing that Hertzberg couldn't get anything done; in the Daily News, Pavley campaign manager Parke Skelton all but says that party loyalty is the far more important value than deal-making: "We hear he is being encouraged to run by business interests. No one in the (Democratic) caucus will support him. He will become toxic in Sacramento if he is elected."

3. Old hands with deep experience and knowledge could make the system work.

This is related to premise #4 (above). Advocates for loosening or limiting term limits say the state legislature would get more done if it had more seasoned, experienced elected officials like Bob Hertzberg. Of course, Pavley, who sponsored groundbreaking environmental legislation in the assembly and previously served as mayor of Agoura Hills, would represent a test of the same proposition.

2. Broad government and budget reform is still possible within the existing system.

Hertzberg hasn't broadcast all his intentions in running.

But as someone who has spent much of the last decade pushing publicly and behind the scene for big changes in how state government does business, he almost certainly would pursue similar big changes in the legislature. 

Hertzberg would join a legislature with a handful of allies inclined to reform, including his fellow Angelenos Mike Feuer and Mike Gatto in the assembly, and the Bay Area's Loni Hancock and Mark DeSaulnier in the senate.

Could a small Big Reform Caucus get things done? The smart money says they wouldn't have a chance. But throwing Hertzberg into the mess might change the odds.

1. Hostage-taking could be used to end hostage-taking.

This is my own premise, and not a widely shared one.

But here it is: Republicans, particularly moderate Republicans, have used the leverage provided by supermajority rules to make demands. This sort of hostage taking -- I won't give you my vote unless you meet my demands -- is a huge problem for the state.

But the only way to end such hostage-taking is to get rid of supermajorities and other levers that allow for hostage-taking.

If you're a legislator, the only way to attack hostage taking is to take hostages for one-self -- and make the demands constitutional and rules changes that would end hostage-taking.

For example, the fastest way to get a constitutional revision process in the state approved is probably for one legislator or a small group of legislators to take a legislative hostage and make the revision process their ransom demand.

There's nothing to stop a moderate Democrat from using this Republican trip. Hertzberg probably isn't inclined to try anything like this -- he's much more interested in making deals and getting along. But, as a test of various ideas for breaking the Sacramento gridlock -- and for sheer entertainment value -- it would be hard to beat a Senator Hertzberg.

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