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COURSEY: This exit leads to a soft landing

Don't blame former Assemblyman Michael Allen for walking through the revolving door between the state Legislature and a high-paying job in the state bureaucracy.

He didn't invent this practice; he only benefits from it. As have many of his predecessors.

Allen, who in November lost a bid for re-election to the Assembly, this week trod a well-worn path from the Assembly floor to the offices of the California Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board, where he will earn $128,000 a year.

It's not the first time that this appeals board has served as lucrative unemployment insurance for a former state legislator. In 2003, former Assemblywoman Virginia Strom-Martin, D-Duncans Mills, was appointed to the board after losing her Assembly job to term limits. Former Sen. Liz Figueroa got a position on the board after losing a bid to become lieutenant governor in 2006. When she was appointed, other board members included a former press secretary to Maria Shriver and a former aide to Gov. Gray Davis. And when Allen takes a seat at his first board meeting later this month, he will join a board that includes former Assemblyman and Senator Roy Ashburn of Kern County, who was appointed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger after Ashburn was termed out of the Legislature in 2010.

High-paying state boards and commissions for years have been designated "soft landings" for termed-out and turned-out politicians in Sacramento. Schwarzenegger, when he replaced Davis in the governor's office in 2002, tried to get rid of many of those jobs as part of his vow to "blow up the boxes" in state government.

His effort didn't pan out very well. Of about a dozen boards and commissions that pay board members $100,000 a year or more, only one was abolished — the California Integrated Waste Management Board. That had been a favorite "soft landing" for North Coast legislators, including, at various times, former Senator (and now Assemblyman) Wes Chesbro, former Assemblywoman (and later Senator) Patricia Wiggins and former Senator Carole Migden.

Like Allen, none of these folks created the revolving door. Neither, however, did they do anything to close it while serving as lawmakers. And, when it offered a smooth exit from the Legislature (or a cozy transition from one branch to another) they took it.

Former State Sen. Tony Strickland, who as a Republican had little chance of being appointed to one of these boards by a Democratic governor, Assembly speaker or Senate president pro-tem, tried for years to get the Legislature to replace the $100,000-plus jobs with volunteer positions that would come with small stipends. But with a majority of Democrats in both chambers, and with every member regardless of party eventually facing term limits and a forced exit from the state Capitol, he faced "an uphill climb," he told the San Diego Union-Tribune last year.

"A lot of these legislators see themselves terming out in the very short term and of course they want these positions. I would venture to say that a lot of these legislators want me to not keep talking about it," he said.

Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on whether you have certain friends with certain appointment powers, Strickland isn't talking about this any more. He lost a bid for a southern California congressional seat last fall and ended his term in the state Legislature last month.


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