Ackerman says his trip to Maui was "extremely valuable"

Folks. I will again violate proper blogging by publishing an entire article from the Sacramento Bee to avoid any doubts about me engaging in spin as I chastise my Senator Dick Ackerman for leading by example on how to abuse the system. It is also worth noting that while Todd Spitzer took an active role in demanding assistance in our recent Orange County fires my Senator could not show up until he was with the governor four days later for a photo op. It’s called priorities. In this case Kevin Spilane is correct when he stated “it’s an example of business-as-usual by the state Legislature, the pursuit of political perks above serious policy,”

What’s Larry rambling about? Read the following story by Jim Sanders and let us know how you feel. I promise to send a copy of this post with your comments to Senator Ackerman. Simply follow the rules. No personal attacks or vulgar language.

Surf’s up for some legislators

State lawmakers sun themselves in Maui while doing business.

By Jim Sanders –

Last Updated 10:52 am PST Thursday, November 8, 2007
Story appeared in MAIN NEWS section, Page A4

Senate Republican leader Dick Ackerman says the conference provides top-notch panel discussions on energy, health care, water and other key issues. Randall Benton /

Numerous California legislators are lodged in a $300-a-night Maui hotel this week to mingle with business, labor and other interests that do business at the Capitol.

The weeklong conference, in the luxurious Fairmont Kea Lani resort, is touted as a chance to escape the capital’s glare for bipartisan policy discussions, scuba diving and beachcombing.

Lawmakers are picking up the tab themselves, either through personal or campaign funds, but some political analysts say lawmakers should be rolling up their shirt sleeves – not their beach towels.

“It’s business as usual with the good-old-boy network,” said Ted Costa of People’s Advocate, a Sacramento-based watchdog group.

Costa noted that the Maui get-together comes at a time when the state is facing massive water and health care problems and is bracing for a potential multibillion-dollar budget shortfall.

Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez, who is not attending the conference, sparked headlines recently for campaign disclosure statements listing tens of thousands of dollars in out-of-state travel and luxury purchases.

“You’d think with all the notoriety they’ve had, they’d know better,” Costa said of legislators packing their bags for Hawaii.

But Senate Republican leader Dick Ackerman of Irvine, who is attending the conference, said it provides top-notch panel discussions on energy, health care, water and other key issues.

“It’s extremely valuable,” Ackerman said.

He estimated that 15 to 20 lawmakers are attending this year.

They include Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, D-La Cañada Flintridge; Assemblyman George Plescia, R-La Jolla; Assemblywoman Patty Berg, D-Eureka; Assemblyman Charles Calderon, D-Whittier; and Sen. Jim Battin, R-Palm Desert.

Few, if any, Sacramento-area legislators attended the event.

Plescia said he appreciates the chance to meet in a more relaxed atmosphere with colleagues from both parties. “There’s much more open dialogue,” he said.

Larry Gerston, a political science professor at San Jose State University, said the state can benefit from such conferences.

“We have this huge deficit looming,” Gerston said. “This is the kind of a place where legislators can get away from the posturing and say, ‘How are we going to deal with this?’ … But I’m not saying they aren’t having their share of mai tais; I’m sure they are.”

Besides lawmakers, other participants include representatives of Chevron, Pacific Gas and Electric Co., Indian gambling tribes, environmental groups and the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, according to a daily agenda.

Calderon said panel or policy discussions are held until about 12:30 p.m. each day, after which lawmakers can plan their own schedules.

The weeklong event ends Saturday at the Maui resort, where visitors can enjoy championship golf courses, 11 tennis courts, boutique shopping, snorkeling, kayaking, sailing or diving.

Several years ago, the correctional peace officers association sponsored a similar Maui get-together each year, but there was a public backlash at the prospect of legislators being a captive audience to one of the state’s most powerful labor unions.

Two years ago, a nonprofit group was created, Pacific Policy Research Foundation, to organize the annual Hawaiian trek. Former Assemblyman Tom Bordonaro serves as its president, and its board includes Sherry Leonard, wife of Bill Leonard, a Board of Equalization member; and Linda Ackerman, wife of the Senate Republican leader.

Names of legislators booked into the Fairmont Kea Lani are not a public record, though they ultimately must disclose any purchases made with campaign funds or any gifts they receive in Maui.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s legislative secretary, Chris Kahn, is attending the Hawaiian conference. But he is paying for the trip himself while vacationing with his wife, who is a lobbyist, spokesman Aaron McLear said.

Ackerman, Plescia and others contacted Wednesday in Hawaii declined to identify colleagues gathered in Maui.

By law, lawmakers can use campaign funds to finance travel and lodging expenses for themselves and their spouses to attend public policy conferences anywhere in the world.

The Pacific Policy Research Foundation, as a nonprofit agency, is not required to reveal its corporate donors or other funding sources. Officials did not return calls seeking comment.

Ryan Sherman, one of three CCPOA officials at the event, said holding the conference in Hawaii helps attract a good turnout, which benefits policy discussions.

“It makes sense to have it some place where people are interested in going,” he said.

But Kevin Spillane, a leader in fighting a ballot measure to alter term limits, blasted the Hawaii trek as legislative arrogance.

“It’s an example of business-as-usual by the state Legislature, the pursuit of political perks above serious policy,” he said.

Editor’s note: This story has changed from the version that appeared in print to correct Dick Ackerman’s title.

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