OPEN GOVERNMENT -- While "Big Five" negotiations between the governor and the Democratic and
Republican leaders of the Assembly and state Senate have increasingly
been the key to bipartisan pacts on budgets and other significant
legislation, a recent arrival to the Big Five has demanded changes to the process, reports the Press-Enterprise in Riverside.

Senate Minority Leader Dennis Hollingsworth, R-Murrieta, wants all
budget talks to take place in public or be aired in the Legislature's
budget-writing committee before going to floor votes. So far, his
stance seems to have curbed the secrecy that marked months of budget
negotiations leading up to a February budget vote.

"Look at all the problems when we've had with these midnight deals
and early-morning votes," said Hollingsworth. "We should have every
decision be made through the normal constitutional processes."

Unclear, though, is whether Hollingsworth's demand will hinder
efforts to address such an enormous budget gap in time to avert a
fast-approaching cash shortage.

Private Big Five negotiations allow governors and legislative
leaders to speak frankly. They also keep labor unions, anti-tax groups
and dozens of other Capitol special interests in the dark until it is
too late to block any votes.

Airing every proposed cut, revenue increase, or other change in
public could subject lawmakers to a nonstop barrage of office visits,
phone calls to constituents and other pressure to oppose various
proposals.

"The Big Five is not a perfect process," said Dan Schnur, director
of USC's Unruh Institute of Politics and a former adviser to former
Gov. Pete Wilson. "But it's a lot better than hanging 120 legislators
out to dry while they get beat up by the interest groups."

Where does this piñataphobia shade off into simple retreat from accountability? When the special interests complain that they've been sold out, is it a plea in mitigation that "At least I did it behind your back"? 

It's been a long time since Jesse Unruh, father of the modern California Legislature, remarked to his colleagues about lobbyists: "If you can't take their money, drink their liquor, (enjoy) their women,
and then come in here the next day and vote against them, you don't
belong here."

Compare that kind of salty steel with the real world view of Sir Humphrey Appleby, lifetime civil service sage in the BBC series, "Yes, Minister": "Above all, if you wish to describe a proposal in a way that
guarantees that a Minister will reject it, describe it as courageous."

No doubt Senator Hollngsworth is being toasted on all sides for the courage of his proposal.