By Tom Cushing
Catharine Baker works the roomUploaded: Jun 27, 2015
As a sequel to an earlier missive (Catharine Baker leads the witness), today's topic is a report from the front, defined as a well-attended gathering in the Danville Community Center. It was co-hosted with County Supervisor Candace Andersen, who ceded most of her time to her new colleague. I would estimate the crowd at 150-200 souls, with a lot of hair similar to mine in evidence.
It was an impressive performance, in more ways than one. Organizational skills were evident in abundance, from the timing and progression of the meeting, through the signage, to the fact that this is one of a monthly series in many parts of her district, and that she uses these occasions to multi-task on issues she holds dear. There was a donation bin for one good cause, and booklets and sign-ups for others. Her float in the July 4th parade is designed to have similar, multiple elements.
And while her pre-meeting greetings were perfunctory, she came alive in her discussions of her priorities, and in the Qs&As that constituted the bulk of the session. You can find her specific initiatives on her website; what was clear, here, was her mastery of the breadth of issues on which she's called-upon to impact and vote. Ms. Baker spoke extemporaneously on the minutiae of many bills and line items in the state budget.
Of particular interest was to observe her analytical process. Time and again, she went back to the principles that anchor her views, and then ahead to how they apply to her support or concerns about various proposals before her. It fits into a structure ? you can concur or not in its elements, but you have to respect that it's there, and that her positions consistently fit.
On the merits, one such principle, invoked several times, was to the effect that before we commit funds to subject x, we must first determine that the money already devoted to that purpose is well-spent. As a concept, that's a head-nodder ? but it sounds better than it deserves. These are not serial processes, but parallel, and should be concurrent. Of course government must be accountable and improve its efficiency, but that's a continuous process, and not a condition precedent to support of any particular line item.
She IS new to these processes, so the desire to ensure proper operations is understandable; it is also a philosophically convenient excuse to oppose spending in general, however, a GOP staple. Let's hope the watchdog role becomes a continuing, rather than an episodic concern.
Also on display was a strong facility in pol-speak. The rookie Assembly rep warmly acknowledged her colleagues in the room, complimented many questions, and seemed to try to find the pony-in-the-pile on others ? even a passionate, rambling advocacy on a topic that was only vaguely related to any inquiry. The irony of that individual's rant against government spending, blended with a plea for better state funding of her preferred (and very good) cause, went unremarked.
Further, Ms. Baker presented herself as a we-can-work-it-out problem solver, and soft-pedalled the ideology. She knew she was in friendly confines, and offered a few tried-and-true laugh lines about government (in)competence, but she also presented opposing viewpoints without rancor, and with a refreshing (if limited) degree of fairness. There was none of the bitter scorched earth or torched bridges typical of her affiliates on the national scene.
Based on this admittedly small sampling of her term, Ms. Baker's off to a great start, and will be a formidable force for these environs.