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"Speaker fervent about keeping power local "

By Jonathan Edwards | Enterprise staff writer | May 17, 2009


Bob Hertzberg, a former speaker of the state Assembly, gives a passionate talk on Saturday to a crowd of local government officials. Jonathan Edwards/Enterprise photo
Bob Hertzberg is a freight train, on fire and unstoppable.


Mic in hand, the former speaker of the state Assembly was working the Saturday morning crowd of small-time political players.

The words were flowing. He was rigging on Proposition 13, property taxes and local control.

Dry stuff, sure, but Hertzberg's got the fire and the brimstone. Everyone was trying not to blink. Maybe he'll remake the state's budgeting process right here and now. That's what people were thinking, hoping.

'People don't want to send their money to Sacramento, Washington or the moon! They want to spend it in their community!'

With Hertzberg, every sentence ends in exclamation. 'I'm talking about a fundamental change!'

No one yelled it out , but the unspoken word were on the tips of tongues - 'Hallelujah!'

Hertzberg was preaching to his choir.

'Government is so far from the people,' he said to some 100 politicians and officials from UC Davis, Yolo County and the city of Davis: Mayor Ruth Asmundson and Mayor Pro Tem Don Saylor; Yolo County Supervisors Helen Thomson and Jim Provenza; School board trustees Susan Lovenburg and Sheila Allen.

These are the people who should be taxing their communities, and then deciding how that money should be spent, Hertzberg said.

But they're not, and that's part of the reason why they were rallying on Saturday under the banner 'Saving California Communities: Starting Here!'

'Here' is not a good place to be. Last week, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger threw out the possibility of nabbing nearly $2 billion from local government property taxes to close the state's growing budget deficit.

Hertzberg now co-chairs California Forward, which is trying to transform state government, top to bottom. Power to the people kind of stuff

California Forward has already had success in pushing redistricting reform back in November.

Power to draw the political boundaries that make up the state Legislature no longer lies with the Legislature. Instead, a 14-person commission made up of California voters will decide.

'We're not just re-arranging deck chairs,' Hertzberg said

But California still has titanic problems as it tries to course its way through the 21st century.

The state's budget is front and center. A two-thirds majority to pass a budget is too much, Hertzberg said

Let the majority party own the budget. Let them take the credit or the blame. Right now, Californians don't know who to hold accountable when things hit the fan.

And that's what local control is about. So give taxing authority to the counties, the schools and the cities. Let them take the credit when things go well, and let them eat when it all goes to hell.

The system is broken, Hertzberg said. Things aren't working. The best and the brightest head off to Sacramento to do good, and they come back angry, frustrated.

When you dance with the devil, the devil don't change.

So change the dance, change the devil. Hertzberg plans to pitch the idea of a California Constitutional Convention to voters in 2010.

The way he sees it, everything's on the table: the budget, the initiative process, campaign finance, term limits, revenue relationship between local and state government.


It's tough work, sure. Hertzberg admits that.

'It's complicated, it's hard - OK - next case.'

The crowd was in rapture.

- Reach Jonathan Edwards at or (530) 747-8052. Track breaking news at



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