Every spring, a busload of people from Santa Clarita travel north with a lot of questions for Sacramento’s legislators. For two days, they have the attention of both sides of the aisle, hearing some hard, but honest answers from elected officials given permission to be candid, because this group can take it.
The sixth annual KHTS Sacramento Bus Trip, sponsored by Assemblyman Cameron Smyth, ATT and the Castaic Lake Water Agency, is scheduled March 21 and 22 and space is filling up fast.
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“This trip has a significant impact in Sacramento,” said organizer and KHTS co-owner Carl Goldman. “We are the only community doing this and Cameron always gets comments from his colleagues. Instead of individual lobbyists or special interest groups going up, we work together on issues important to Santa Clarita.”
“It’s different from what they’re used to,” Goldman continued. “It gives everyone who participates a real eye-opener to what it’s like in Sacramento, and having a broad cross-section of the community involved, the word gets spread out when we come back.”
Prior year participants – some of whom have gone several times – include just about every facet of life in our valley. It’s not uncommon to have auto dealers, chamber of commerce staff, the mayor, school board members, union representatives, members of the media, nonprofit organization board members, utility purveyors and concerned citizens “working the bus” and networking with people they may not have met or finding out that they have more in common than they thought.
This year, the issues under the microscope include health, funding for mental health, education (especially since school funding is up in the air) and the peripheral canal, which will have a great impact on water suppliers.
“There are federal and state decisions that will affect decisions on the peripheral canal,” Goldman said. “We anticipate it will be a hot issue, so we’ll touch on the pros and cons.”
“It gives folks from Santa Clarita a real stripped-down look at what’s going on in Sacramento,” Smyth said. “We have speakers from both sides of the aisle come in and talk about topics that are important, not only to the state, but to Santa Clarita. We tell the speakers to be ready for questions and that this is time for real answers.”
“It’s been great, not only have we seen a lot of good reports from the folks who have gone on (the trip) but my colleagues in the Legislature all ask me how we do it because they think it’s a great idea to do for their own district.”
“I think that’s the biggest compliment when you see people going year after year. It’s a work trip, a quick up-and-back, with not a lot of down time,” he continued. “If people didn’t feel it was worth the effort, they wouldn’t go. Every year the bus is full, we try to change the topics every year because there are different issues that affect us. Some of our speakers have included the Superintendent of Schools, the Insurance Commissioner and the Budget Director. We try to keep things as topical as possible and it’s a real opportunity to hear (the issues) first-hand; it doesn’t require a lot of time away, it’s just one night. You cover a lot of ground in a little time.”
This year, Smyth has added an element that will help a local charity. Eight people will have the chance to tour the cupola of the Capitol building, which has been closed since 2001, by purchasing opportunity drawing tickets and having their tickets pulled in Sacramento. All the proceeds will go to the Domestic Violence Center of the SCV.
There are actually two domes on the Capitol building; the one you see from the outside and the one beneath it, which is the original cupola. Original building codes for Sacramento dictated that no building could be taller than the Capitol, so it was raised to allow some high-rise construction.
“On a clear day, you can see from Mt. Shasta to Mt. Diablo,” Smyth said. “There’s a tradition that people who get up there write their names on the wall,” he said, adding that his name has not yet joined the list. “Most legislators have never gone on the tour.”
The idea for the tour came about in 2005 when Goldman and the late Assemblyman Keith Richman did Capitol Clear Speak, which brought legislators and interested citizens together on a much smaller scale. After that event, the two found themselves working a 5K walk for the Arthritis Foundation at Bridgeport Park and wondered aloud how they could continue and expand that communication opportunity.
“Keith was in a real battle over partisan division,” Goldman said. “He wanted people to see how dysfunctional it could be in Sacramento and how frustrating it was.”
Together, they came up with the idea of chartering a bus – which Richman sponsored that first year – with the thought that two days of seeing politics firsthand would give citizens a whole new perspective.
It worked. Word spread not just through the media, but from community leader to groups, businesses and local institutions. The next year, they needed a bigger bus.
“We go out of our way to invite people from all sides of the spectrum, businesses, nonprofits and stakeholders in the issues,” Goldman explained. “We’re also trying to get younger people enthused so Keith’s legacy (Richman died in 2010) can continue into the next generation.