A classic line from a baseball movie aptly characterizes a stupid play made by some Democratic state legislators.
What happened in the California State Assembly was really a bush league mistake.
In the 1988 movie “Bull Durham,” arguably the greatest baseball movie ever made, an exasperated minor league manager heatedly lectures his inept team: “Baseball is a simple game. You throw the ball. You catch the ball. You hit the ball.
“Did you understand?”
Similarly, the hard game of legislating can be simple. Not always, but sometimes.
For example: if a pimp is trafficking children for sex, providing children for pedophiles, it is a felony.
No “if” or “but”.
Got it, Democrats?
And “simple” doesn’t necessarily mean simplistic. It is often synonymous with common sense.
It’s the truth and practicality of the real world, even if it doesn’t quite fit into someone’s abstract ideology handbook.
Fortunately for Democrats, Gov. Gavin Newsom and new Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas, from rural Hollister in San Benito County, recognized sound politics and understood the political playing field. They saved their party from a potentially costly public backlash.
This is what I’m complaining about:
Two months ago, the largely Democratic state Senate unanimously approved a Republican lawmaker’s bill, SB 14, to toughen penalties for repeat sex trafficking of minors.
Sex trafficking is now considered a serious crime. SB 14 would officially designate it as “serious” when trafficking children.
The significance of labeling a felony as “serious” is that it subjects the criminal to California’s “three strikes” law, which can substantially extend prison time for repeat offenders.
The bill was so obvious that all 40 senators voted in favor of it. In fact, both sides agreed not to even bother with a floor debate and a roll call vote. The measure was placed on what’s called the “consent schedule,” the soft landing spot for bipartisan bills that are so uncontroversial that dozens are routinely passed simultaneously en masse.
That was possible because the author, Sen. Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield), compromised with Democrats and amended the bill to apply only to trafficking in children under 18. Originally, she wanted to apply harsher sentences to all sex trafficking, regardless of the age of the victims.
Next stop: the Assembly Public Safety Committee. And that’s where the bill seemed to die until the chairman, Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles), received a wake-up call from Newsom, Rivas and many angry voters.
For years, that committee has been a deathbed for bills that toughen sentencing. Recent Examples: A measure that increases the penalty for raping a minor with developmental disabilities. Another for fentanyl dealers if the user is seriously injured by the drug.
Opponents of harsher sentences tend to adhere adamantly to the principle that increased prison time is wrong because it can crowd jail cells, disproportionately crowding people of color.
They fly the banner of criminal justice reform, refusing to accept the notion that reform can be achieved while acknowledging, for example, that career pimps should pay a higher price for their wickedness and not be free to prey on children.
“I heard from the opposition that black Californians are being disproportionately hurt by three strikes,” Bakersfield’s Odessa Perkins told the Assembly committee last week.
“But I am here to say that I was repeatedly abused and raped by black and white men and even some women. So it doesn’t matter the race. What matters is saving our children. Traffickers are released early from jail and reoffend, continuing the horrific cycle of abuse and depravity.”
Perkins, who is black, testified that she was victimized since she was a little girl: “Being touched, groomed. Then I started forcing myself to have sex with a grown man, then… with a lot of “uncles” in quotes. Then they trafficked me to the highest bidder: drug dealers. But now what you see is a survivor.”
The members of the Democratic committee were not swayed. They evaded a vote. The bill needed five yes votes to go forward and received just two of the only Republicans on the panel.
“Stupid crime,” says Democratic political consultant Steve Maviglio. “Voters are outraged when the pendulum (of punishing crime) swings too far the other way and politicians become too lenient. Right now people are nervous.”
“Some of these people, their moral compass is wrong,” Sacramento County Sheriff Jim Cooper told me, referring to his former colleagues in the Legislature. “This bill was easy.”
Before being elected sheriff, Cooper was a moderate Democratic assemblyman who tried to push several crime bills through and, he says, couldn’t even get a committee hearing.
“In the current Legislature,” he says, “the issues of the victims do not matter.”
Sex trafficking is important to Newsom. The governor called Grove to express his disappointment. And he telephoned Rivas to urge the announcer to intervene. At a Democratic caucus meeting, Rivas declared that the embarrassing situation needed to be fixed.
The Public Safety Committee quickly backed down. In a meeting that lasted just one tab, the panel voted 6-0 to resurrect the bill and send it to the Appropriations Committee.
Jones-Sawyer voted for the measure for the second time. But she says she still needs an amendment to ensure that victims forced to help traffickers are not subject to harsher sentences.
Grove told me that he has amended the bill sufficiently. “Forty senators didn’t think he needed more amendments,” she says.
Jones-Sawyer also notes that child sex traffickers can already receive sentences of 15 years to life in prison if there is force, coercion or violence. But that’s often hard to prove, advocates of the bill argue.
“It’s incomprehensible to me that in California we don’t call child trafficking a felony,” says the Alameda County District retiree. Attorney Nancy O’Malley, Democrat.
“People are shocked. That is why the legislators received the rejection.”
Like baseball, politics is basically a simple game. When there is too much voter rejection, you lose.