Hitting the road

Democratic state senator Denise Ducheny has been taking it on the chin from newspapers around the state for jaunting across the Pacific while the legislature wrestled with the budget crisis. She was among 15 of her peers playing hooky while the red ink increased. “One of the junketeers was a key budget leader in the state Senate,” wrote Fresno Bee columnist Jim Boren last week. “But no need to have Sen. Denise Moreno Ducheny, D-San Diego, at the special legislative session. All she does is chair the Senate Budget Committee. She was in India with a bunch of her legislative pals.”

Boren made fun of Ducheny staff chief John Ferrera for covering for his boss, citing a Ferrera quote in the San Francisco Chronicle. “As far as our office is concerned, she is no less engaged in the process than if she were in her San Diego office,” Ferrera said. Concluded Boren, “It would be better for him to say: ‘Sen. Ducheny decided to go to India because the clowns in Sacramento — her honorable and much-respected colleagues — are not going to do anything about the budget mess anyway. She might as well log some frequent flyer miles while the state heads for bankruptcy.’ ”

The trip began November 12 and was scheduled to end on November 27. It was paid for by the California International Relations Foundation, run by the legislature to sponsor such activities; the organization is funded by many of the same big corporations that lobby the legislature. … Some staff members of termed-out legislators are taking the opportunity to grab a few final freebies before their bosses leave office. Take the case of Brett Dietz, legislative aide for GOP assemblyman George Plescia, who in August got a ticket worth $63.24 from communications giant AT&T to a Giants game at AT&T Park in San Francisco. His colleague Beth Helmsin, Plescia’s capitol director, got a ticket worth $26 in September.

Among those staffers staying around, Myrna Zambrano, district director for just-reelected Democratic state senator Christine Kehoe, got a $90 ticket from AT&T in September to San Diego’s Petco Park. Her husband, Charles Harrington Elster, the noted local logophile and former host of the public broadcasting radio show A Way With Words, got the same. GOP assemblyman Joel Anderson and wife Kate each received an $88 dinner at the Volare Ristorante Italiano in Chicago. … Cheryl Peace, wife of ex–Democratic state senator Steve Peace, who is now an advisor to Padres owner John Moores, is vacating her seat on the state’s Integrated Waste Management Board. The position, which pays $132,178, is being filled by termed-out Democratic assemblymember John Laird of Santa Cruz. Peace was named to the board by Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez in June 2007; her term was supposed to last until January 2010. No word yet as to why she is leaving early. Critics have blasted the fat salaries paid to boardmembers at the same time the state budget is going bust.

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