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How Republicans see their rather diminished role, and other notes from the capitol

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Posted: Saturday, January 26, 2013 12:00 am

Each year, the state's main press group, the California Newspaper Publishers Association, holds a session in Sacramento where political and media types offer updates and insights.

Here's an assortment of quotes and notes from that sesssion:

Rookie invasion: Master of Ceremonies Hal Fuson, retired news exec and lawyer: "There are 39 new legislators up here, so if you see them wandering around, you might show them where the restrooms are."

Republicans like journalists?: Republicans in Sacramento have dwindled to the point, some say, of irrelevance. But Assembly Republican Leader Connie Conway, from Visalia, preferred to cast the GOP role in a positive light: "We are the conscience up here. Sort of like journalists, we question things, we point things out."

Small but super: Conway got a giggle by referring to her party as the "Super Minority." That's a play on words because the Democrats are the now the "Super Majority." They have two-thirds or more of the votes in both houses of the California Legislature. That's enough to override a veto by Gov. Jerry Brown, but he's a Democrat, too.

And thanks to the election of 2010, Democrats don't even need their super majority to pass a budget. Tired of late budgets, the voters that year changed the rules and now budgets just need a majority vote.

Shining a light: State Senate Republican leader Bob Huff, admitting that Republicans aren't even included in some key meetings anymore, also invoked the journalistic comparison: "We try to shine a flashlight into those smoke-filled rooms we aren't in anymore."

Watch what you say: Also from Conway, her rule of thumb for legislators speaking out: "If you are OK with something on Page 1 of your local newspaper, above the fold, go ahead and say it. If not, don't say it."

On guns and guns control: "Somehow it seems bad guys always get the equipment to do bad things," said Conway.

Education reform: Huff cited a Stanford study showing that replacing the bottom 5-7 percent of teachers with teachers of merely average competence would put U.S. student achievement on par with Finland and Canada, which boast much higher achievement marks.

"It isn't a matter of firing teachers. It is a matter of making them better," he said. Huff favors making it tougher to achieve tenure and suggests giving higher pay to higher-performing teachers. "We shouldn't treat teachers like widgets. They are not all alike," he said.

How to lobby a legislator: Leland Yee, a state senator from San Francisco, had some humorous advice for lobbying a member of the legislature: "Ignore the legislator. Go straight to their staff. The staff do all the real work anyway."

In the center: Conway got another laugh pointing out that the fight over water is like gangs in California: "It's the Sureños against the Norteños. I'm from Visalia, which is in the middle of the Central Valley. That makes me a Centreño."

Newsroom value?: Finally, the group heard from Darius Anderson, a lobbyist, developer and, most recently, the owner of newspapers in Sonoma County, including the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat. Asked if he is going to exert political pressure in the newsroom, he said he would not.

"Screwing around with the newsroom would reduce its value. I am a value guy. I don't want to see the value of the newspaper reduced," he said.

Anderson said some friends have wondered rather loudly why he invested in newspapers, which aren't exactly gushing profits these days.

"They say it is sort of like trying to catch a falling knife," he said.

***

Also in Sacramento this week, we had an eye-opening meeting with State Sen. Cathleen Galgiani.

She made it clear during the campaign that she's actively involved in getting "Speed Freak Killer" Wesley Shermantine to help investigators dig up more of his victims' bodies.

What we didn't know is that she's visited him in prison several times and exchanges letters with this madman about once a week. She said she helped bring the FBI into the case and has helped persuade Shermantine to correspond directly with several police departments.

With the help of his sister, Galgiani said Shermantine spends much of his prison time trying to clear his memory of the fog of methamphetamine and remember details of dozens of killings.

Nice lady.

Nasty pen pal.

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