Our state Legislature has a number of bad practices, such as gutting and amending bills at the last minute and failing to be forthcoming about legislators' office budgets.
Last month, the Associated Press shined the light on another type of hide and seek: A longstanding rule in the Assembly that allows legislators to switch their votes after the fact.
We agree with the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, which called it "a contemptible practice, one that allows legislators to avoid taking clear positions and, thus, hiding their true votes from constituents. Worse, it casts doubt on all legislative votes, leaving one to question what is real and what is fiction about voting records."
The AP did an admirable job of digging through the records. It sorted through all of the legislation considered this year and found about 5,000 examples this year of lawmakers making changes or additions to their voting records.
Some argue that this rule is necessary because lawmakers sometimes accidentally push the wrong button or they have to step out for a moment, ask a colleague to register their vote and the colleague pushes the wrong button. That might happen, but it's probably rare. And it isn't a good excuse anyway.
More often, we think, legislators are trying to camouflage their votes, and that perception is backed up by the fact that the AP found that lawmakers who were running for a new seat this fall were most likely to use the vote switching. Associated Press reporters found that of the top 15 vote-changers this year, 11 were seeking a new office outside of the Assembly.
Lawmakers were more likely to change their votes on bills that involved powerful lobbies such as law enforcement or education or on hot button social issues.
Among the Assembly members in our region, Cathleen Galgiani, D-Stockton, made the most frequent use of this bad practice, and was among the top 10 of those adding or switching votes. She added her vote 136 times and switched two votes.
Kristin Olsen, R-Modesto, added a vote 53 times and changed her vote five times, according to the Associated Press analysis.
Bill Berryhill, R-Stockton, added his vote to legislation that had passed or failed 47 times this year and changed his vote twice. (The Associated Press only reviewed Assembly voting records, not those of the state Senate.)
Assembly Republicans changed their votes at more than twice the rate as Democrats, according to the Associated Press, but every member had at least one vote add or change. These additions and changes aren't visible to the average citizen because the official record only shows the last vote recorded.
Legislators need to study the issues, vote carefully and then stand by their votes. This is just another example of political gamesmanship that contributes to the Legislature's dismally poor approval rating in the public. The AP blew the whistle on it, and the game should be called.