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Capitol Gains

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By Jennifer Warren, Photos by Michael Sugrue

Published Jul 1, 2009 11:00 AM


And then there's the vast issue of government reform. Once considered a snoozer, this is a topic gaining traction by the day. Steinberg's ambitions are not small. He wants to overhaul the way California finances state and local government; reform the ballot initiative process; change the two-thirds super-majority vote required to pass a budget and other revenue measures; and — sacred cow of all sacred cows — modernize California's tax structure.

"We tax goods but we don't tax services, even though we've moved to a service-based economy," Steinberg notes. "Politically, it's very difficult, but it needs to be talked about."

Sidebar: Across the Aisle Bruin Republicans offer their own prescription for economic health. Not surprisingly, it begins with tax cuts.

Fortunately for Steinberg, he has a lot of time for talk. A father of two who sports a buzz cut and drives a Toyota Prius hybrid, Steinberg is in only his first term as a senator. That means he could serve in the top post until 2014, an eternity in the "here today, gone tomorrow" era of legislative term limits. A tenure of that length, of course, raises expectations. So to deliver results, Steinberg is striving to create a new culture in the statehouse, one that emphasizes the involvement of both parties and both houses in major policy discussions from the get-go. Sometimes, that also means involving Schwarzenegger, who works amicably with Steinberg and has nicknamed the Senate leader "Steiny."

Florez, the grandson of farm workers and the first Latino student body president at UCLA (in 1986-'87), faces a far earlier exit, with his Senate term ending in 2010. On top of his duties as majority leader, Florez is roiling the Capitol waters as chairman of the Senate Food & Agriculture Committee. Traditionally, the committee has mostly represented the food production perspective, but Florez has expanded the focus to include food distribution and consumption, along with animal welfare.

"My family has been in the valley for 100 years, but we've been the ones picking the fruit," says Florez, who spent his teenage summers working in a potato-packing plant. "So my perspective on agriculture is a little different."

His next move is a run for lieutenant governor. In the meantime, however, Florez is happy to march forward through this unsettling year as Steinberg's first lieutenant, committed to keeping the ship afloat until California's sea calms once again.

"We're great partners," Steinberg says. "I think we both believe that effective leadership means being honest with people about the challenges, but giving them a sense of confidence that times will get better. I wouldn't have taken this job if I didn't believe we can turn this around and accomplish great things for California, and I intend to be part of an era that does so."

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