Well, gee-willikers, I always thought that one of the primary jobs of a state legislator was representing your constituents back home when an important vote came up in the Capitol.
Call me old-fashioned, I guess.
And, to tell you the truth, I always thought that when we learned that one of our representatives in Sacramento had said "yea" or "nay" to a piece of legislation, that vote was a clear reflection of their position on the issue.
Call me na?e, too.
The Associated Press reported last week that members of the state Assembly changed their votes or added votes to the record after the fact 5,000 times in this year's legislative session. That's right – 5,000 times – and there are only 80 members of the Assembly.
How prevalent is this practice? The AP reported that Republican Assemblyman Bill Berryhill added his vote to legislation that had already passed or failed 47 times this year and changed his vote twice, but he didn't consider that a lot.
"I try not to make it a practice," he said. "I don't think you want to play too many games up there. You should pretty much be making decisions before you get to the floor."
I guess that's not "too many games." Some legislators did it more than 100 times.
This is not new, but the AP's work to create a database on votes covering 1,100 pieces of legislation helps put the practice into perspective. Every single member of the Assembly changed or added votes this year.
To them, it's routine. Lawmakers in the Assembly are allowed to change or add votes after the fate of a bill has been decided, as long as it does not change the outcome of the original vote of the full Assembly. (The state Senate allows such changes only by the Democratic and Republican leaders in that house.)
California is one of at least 10 state legislative bodies nationwide in which some lawmakers can amend their votes.
So, for example, if you at first were under the impression that Assemblyman Wes Chesbro was against allowing hunters to use dogs to track bears and bobcats, you might have been surprised to learn that he later changed his vote to allow it. Or you may have believed Assemblyman Michael Allen supported a bill to raise the cap on damages for pain and suffering in medical malpractice lawsuits, but you probably didn't know he later changed the record to show he didn't vote on that bill at all. Or, you may have been surprised to find out that Assemblyman Jared Huffman missed 144 votes this year in the Assembly, only to add his vote to the record after each of those issues was decided. (Thanks to my colleague Derek Moore's reporting on these details last week.)
And legislators wonder why the public holds their institution in such low esteem.
We're taught from an early age that our vote is one of our most cherished rights, responsibilities and privileges. Our votes at the ballot box are compounded and made more powerful as they are embodied in the representatives we send to Sacramento, where their votes turn our votes into law and policy.
We expect them to treat those votes with the same reverence and respect with which we cast ours.