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By Tom Cushing

Catharine Baker leads the witness

Uploaded: May 5, 2015

An old adage in the law advises attorneys never to ask a question if they don't already know its answer. A recent constituent survey from newly-minted State Assembly rep Baker shows that she's learned that lesson well.

I nearly overlooked the mailing, in the fetid excess of the Bonilla-Glazer mud-wrestle (following-up a recent post hereabouts, Mr. Glazer et al. appears to have built an insurmountable lead in the unwanted cardboard contumely pile ? I'll be mailing-in for Ms. Bonilla). Then Ms. Baker almost lost me with this introductory bit of mythology: "One of this country's greatest strengths is that citizens like you have the power to determine the government's priorities." Apparently, she has me confused with one Charles Munger* ? it's an easy mistake.

But the survey questions themselves demonstrated that law school lessons were not lost on her. How's this for a loaded question?

Q2: "A California court recently ruled that certain laws granting tenure were unconstitutional and hurt the quality of education for students. With which of the following statements do you agree?
o All Teachers deserve tenure, regardless of performance.
o School districts need to have flexibility to dismiss underperforming teachers, regardless of tenure."

So, let's see: am I for under-performing, unconstitutional and harmful, or do I prefer flexible? I'm guessing that this one may come back unanimous, teachers included. Never mind that it was a trial court, in an opinion written by a famously maverick judge, and the case is now on appeal. As I've written here before, tenure is a nuanced issue, much better discussed in terms of various interests, options and pros-and-cons. I'm guessing our Rep's mind is made-up on this one.

Another series of Qs, numbers 5-7, asks if you commute, for how long, and is BART involved? With the respondent thus primed, Q8 inquires "Did the recent BART strikes impact your daily life?" Two of the three response choices were "Yes," and are nearly identical ("I had to use other means" and "my commute was longer because there were more cars on the road"). Unless you own a helicopter, those choices seem pretty much the same.

The only alternative response states "it had no impact." I looked in vain for a choice like "it was only a few days," or "I support working stiffs' right to organize and collectively bargain their wages." Those apparently weren't what the survey drafters intended.

Or let's try Q13: "Do you support or oppose changing Prop 13 to make it easier to increase local taxes?" Okay, all in favor of making it easier to raise your local taxes, raise your hands ? anybody? ? Bueller? Once again, the question leads the witness. Objection!

Or take Q3 (please): "How do you feel about placing more regulations and fees on businesses and consumers in order to limit carbon emissions?" Any acolyte in the Frank Luntz school of political linguistics knows the following: fees and regulations = bad; businesses and consumers = good. The only things missing are adjectives modifying businesses (like small, or local) and consumers (e.g., hard-working, because, aren't we all?). Once again, the conclusion is foregone.

She even did it regarding issues on which I agree with her, as in Q10: "Would you support legislation to allow terminally ill adults to end their lives through self-administered medication to avoid continued pain-and-suffering?" The pain-and-suffering lobby is pretty under-funded this cycle. We may assume that she likes this legislative idea, since the survey doesn't ask: "Would you support a scheme that allows our beloved seniors to be duped into committing suicide, as opposed by many Christian churches, by injecting lethal drugs, while their impatient heirs tap their feet nearby?"

The point here is this: there are two reasons to poll your constituents, either to actually seek their guidance -- or to lead them into confirming your preconceptions, so you can claim to represent Their interests. This survey purports to be the former, but sounds a lot more like the latter.

If you're going to invest taxpayer funds (yes, TeaPers, we all paid for it ? how do you like Them apples?) in this kind of an effort, 'tis better that it not be a charade, even if that's not what they teach you in law school.

* The billionaire Mr. Munger's PAC contributed fully $1.8 million towards Ms. Baker's election, or roughly three times what her campaign itself took-in. And yes, her opponent Mr. Sbranti was similarly blessed by others ? the point is the same: that it's not "citizens like you" (and me) who elect candidates, and determine their priorities. Money talks. It also guides.