CARBgate Hearing - Republicans chicken out, Democrats hold firm
The first couple reports about today's Assembly Natural Resources Committee hearing into the politicization of the California Air Resources Board are starting to dribble out. The SacBee described a set of angry lawmakers sking pointed questions and threatening that their probe into how the Governor is trying to manipulate the board into adopting his favored implementation of anti-global warming laws would continue.
Assembly Democrats said Friday they will continue investigating whether Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger exerted "illegal and improper pressure" on the California Air Resources Board after they were dissatisfied with answers given by two lower-level representatives of the governor at a Capitol hearing.
The higher-ups sought for questioning, Chief of Staff Susan Kennedy and Cabinet Secretary Dan Dunmoyer, did not arrive, even though handy seat cards were placed at the table awaiting their presence. Dan Skopec, the functionary who the Schwarzenegger Administration sent to testify, apparently grumbled and gainsayed his way through the hearing, much to the dismay of committee Democrats. Matt Jones at CMR writes:
Skopec, who, in a former life, carried the water of Rep. Doug Ose (the former Sacramento area Congressman who defended the energy generators), was a disaster. He called the testimony of CARB officials "fiction," and then refused to answer committee questions about the Governor's staff review of his testimony. He also provoked the committee by calling the hearing political theater -- not a wise move for someone who later said he may soon be a lobbyist before the legislature.
Skopec's comments drew scorn from Assemblymember Jared Huffman of Marin County, who compared the Schwarzenegger Administration's micromanagement of the Air Board to Karl Rove in the White House. LA Assemblymember Mike Feuer also lit into Skopec for failing to fully answer questions. Other members of the panel -- including Santa Barbara Assemblymember Pedro Nava, Sacramento's Dave Jones, and Mark DeSaulnier of Contra Costa County -- also asked pointed questions and drew incomplete answers from the Administration officials.
Jones also mentioned that not one Republican on the committee even bothered to show up at the hearing. They want no part of this controversy, probably because they don't believe in such a thing as global warming to begin with.
The testimony of the two former members of the Air Resources Board, Robert Sawyer and Catherine Witherspoon, seemed to me to be fairly damaging.
Schwarzenegger fired Sawyer last month, and Witherspoon resigned Monday because she said the Governor's Office had tried to control the air board to the benefit of polluters. In particular, Witherspoon said Schwarzenegger deputy chief of staff Dan Dunmoyer had routinely called her to question whether ARB policies would unduly hurt businesses in California.
Sawyer said the governor's office has undermined the traditional independence of the air board, which has the reputation of being an apolitical, science-based body.
"The governor's staff has the task of conveying policy directions from the governor to the Air Resources Board," Sawyer said. "However, Gov. Schwarzenegger, your staff has interjected itself in a manner that has compromised the independence and integrity of the board."
You know, it doesn't matter whether or not legislators want the Governor's support on healthcare reform, or the term limits initiative. This cuts to the very heart of how the branches of government in California function. The Assembly is standing up right now, so far, because they feel the presence would have no meaning if they pass laws that the Governor then can simply circumnavigate to arrive at his preferred solution. In addition, the Assembly is not being permitted to conduct oversight with the actual executive staff involved in the incident. If Dan Dunmoyer was calling CARB members and pressuring them to back off tough regulatory stances, then he must be brought before the committee to answer for that. It's quite simple.
As for next steps, Loni Hancock, who's an excellent progressive voice in the Assembly, is mulling over a variety of options.
Afterward, Assemblywoman Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, the committee chair, left open the possibility of seeking a subpoena of Kennedy and Dunmoyer to force them to answer committee questions. She also said lawmakers may pursue bills that enable air board appointees to serve for fixed terms rather than at the pleasure of the governor, giving board members more independence. Another possibility is to give state lawmakers appointment powers.
I don't see how the Governor would sign bills taking away his authority, so to me, the subpoena route seems the only one that's viable. Democrats are also starting to fight this one in the court of public opinion, which to someone like the ego-driven Schwarzenegger is the only court that matters.
This should get very, very interesting. Stay tuned...