Darrell Steinberg never could have imagined his final year leading the California Senate. His state is in much stronger financial shape than when he became President pro Tem six years ago. But his chamber faces unprecedented scrutiny for four senators’ legal troubles.
“You know, somebody once said to me that it’s much more fun to serve during good times, but it may be more important to serve during the tough times," says Steinberg.
And there’s no question that Steinberg led the California Senate during some of the state’s toughest times. Now, with the state budget in the black and a surprisingly calm final week of legislative session, the President pro Tem believes California is now governed better than it was.
Steinberg counts mental health and autism care, early childhood education, and urban land use policies as among his proudest personal accomplishments.
"In part as a result of what this beleaguered branch of government did over the years, the state is in better shape – and I’m proud of that," he says.
But Steinberg’s final year has been clouded by scandals not of his making – from fellow Democrats facing bribery and corruption charges to lawmakers partying at the Capitol late at night. Asked if the Legislature needs fundamental change, Steinberg said he doesn’t think so.
“We don’t teach the dangers of gun-running in Ethics Class," he says. "Nor do I think we should. Some things are common sense. Do we need rules about drinking alcohol in the building? No. People just need to act responsibly."
Yet given the sheer number of recent incidents, Steinberg said the Senate has a responsibility to improve itself. He points to changes like gift limits and fundraising bans. And he pleads with the public to differentiate the lawmakers facing legal troubles from all the others.
“The members out there working late hours this last week – working hard on their bills – are not responsible for the behavior of some of the people who have been accused of serious misconduct," says Steinberg. "They’re just not.”
Steinberg points to the state budget – and the water bond and rainy day fund measures just placed on the November ballot – and says the Legislature has had a “stellar year” despite all the scandals.