I was standing outside one of those obscure, in-the-dark hearing rooms at the state Capitol where a joint Assembly/Senate Public Employees, Retirement and Social Security committee was holding a hearing on the Little Hoover Commission report on pensions. The hearing was packed, so I was watching the testimony on the TV screen outside in the corridor.
Suddenly, freshman Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski, a committee member and Democrat from, stepped out. Appearing confused, he looked around at the lobbyists assembled and asked, "Where's the men's room?"
Craig Brown, the long-time lobbyist for the California Correctional Peace Officers Association (read prison guards) politely pointed the way and directed him and Wieckowski strode off down the hallway to do his business.
My point? The assemblyman who doesn't yet know his way to the Capitol bathrooms will be deciding one of the most important matters facing government in California today - how to deal with California's sky rocketing pension costs.
Don't get me wrong. Wieckowski is no dummy. He has a law degree from Santa Clara School of Law, has been on the city council in Fremont and was a staffer to a congressman. But the pension crisis facing the state and local governments has a long and torturous history. Understanding that history, the ins and outs of pension spiking, the run up in formulas over the last decade or more, the double talk on "average" retirement pay outs, and rates of return and funding status - all the mumbo jumbo that has been used to obscure this issue for so long - will be thrown at Wieckowski and other lawmakers who are being asked to reform our pension system.
Because of term limits, too many of them are like Wieckowski. Literally they don't know their way to the bathroom or, more importantly, their way around testimony they will hear over the next year as this subject is debated, testimony calculated to confuse, obscure and obfuscate instead of inform.
Because of term limits, fixing pensions and dozens of other crucial issues facing our state is made harder, perhaps impossible.