It’s the time of year around the state Capitol when groups rally, carry signs and walk the halls of the legislature visiting lawmakers’ offices. Executive Director Kathay Feng of California Common Cause says its members will participate in a rally, but the less flashy ways are preferred for bringing about change.
“A lot of our members are the kind of people who will sit down and write a long letter about a particular type of reform they want to see, they’ll set up an appointment with their legislator."
Common Cause is among groups that, nationwide, foster what they call good government—ranging from broader sunshine laws to tighter controls on ethics and disclosure. Feng just took over leadership of the non-partisan group in California. She says creating coalitions is the key to overcoming resistance to change.
“Clean money for instance has been a piece of legislation that has been brought by a number of different groups and time and time again has been killed. One really has to mount a very significant campaign. It’s not the kind of change that can come about very quickly. It’s certainly not the kind that can come about with just one organization.”
The new leader and her efforts come just in time for a showdown in the state legislature over Governor Schwarzenegger’s proposed reforms. Schwarzenegger has said he will take the issues to the ballot in a special election if no compromise can be reached with lawmakers.
Schwarzenegger wants to change the way legislative districts are drawn—a concept long supported by Common Cause. The national arm of the organization announced its support of the Governor’s re-districting effort earlier this year, angering many of the group’s Democrat-leaning supporters. But Republican political consultant Dan Schnur says it’s a good way to reach out to those suspicious of Common Cause’s work.
“But whether or not it’s the right thing to do on behalf of good government, it’s a very effective way of alleviating Republican concerns that the organization has not been as balanced as they’ve asserted themselves to be.”
While Common Cause supports efforts to make fairer districts, Kathay Feng says the organization has not endorsed the ballot initiative championed by Schwarzenegger, nor has it endorsed a special election. Feng says she hopes a compromise on re-districting can still be reached with the legislature—urged on, no doubt, with Common Cause members’ letters and visits to state lawmakers.