California state legislator and congressional candidate Christy Smith (D.) ignored a call to temporarily reduce her six-figure salary as state employees face pay cuts—while pushing a proxy voting bill that could allow her to skip legislative proceedings.
After Gov. Gavin Newsom (D.) proposed a 10 percent pay cut for California's rank-and-file workers in May, Democratic leaders rejected the state pay commission's recommendation to voluntarily surrender a portion of their salary "in recognition of the budgetary hardships and the hardships of many Californians." Despite continuing to receive her full pay of $107,242, Smith coauthored a controversial proxy voting bill that would allow her to forgo in-person State Assembly meetings while colleagues cast a vote on her behalf.
House Democrats have already implemented a proxy voting system at the federal level, sparking a lawsuit led by Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) challenging its constitutionality. Smith's proxy voting proposal, unlike its federal equivalent, is not unique to the coronavirus pandemic and would allow lawmakers to vote by proxy under any emergency "within the state, or parts thereof." McCarthy slammed the proposal, calling it "overbroad."
"Speaker Nancy Pelosi recently pushed through a change to allow votes by proxy on the House floor, an unprecedented, unconstitutional, and misguided decision that alters how citizens are represented in Washington," he told the Washington Free Beacon. "As assembly Democrats push to do the same, it's important to remember that in doing so, they're ultimately relinquishing their vote to someone else who their community did not elect."
Smith is running to unseat Rep. Mike Garcia (R.) after losing to the former Navy fighter pilot by 12 points in a May special election. The California Republican announced Monday that he will donate 10 percent of his congressional salary to local charities, citing an "inherent need" to serve his community in the wake of coronavirus.
"Politicians should not be immune from the economic impacts of COVID-19 and we need to get in the boat and help row," Garcia said in a statement. "Now is the time to help those who have helped us."
Reached for comment, Smith spokeswoman Danni Wang did not address the call for state lawmakers to temporarily reduce their pay in solidarity with rank-and-file workers. She said the California Democrat "has declined two pay raises and donated thousands of dollars to nonprofits like Boys and Girls Club of Santa Clarita Valley, Los Angeles Business Federation Institute and Homes 4 Families in recent months." She said the assemblywoman "didn't announce it for credit, just did the right thing." Wang did not respond to a follow-up on whether Smith would take a voluntary pay cut to help alleviate budget shortfalls.
As Newhall School District board president in 2011, Smith opposed a monthly stipend increase for board members, saying it "wasn't the right thing to do." However, she went on to vote to increase her monthly stipend in 2014 and 2015.
California paid the highest lawmaker salaries in the country until New York adopted a $120,000-per-year wage in January. Newsom announced he would take a 10 percent pay cut starting July 1 to help address a $54 billion budget deficit. While California's Citizens Compensation Commission decided against forced pay cuts for state lawmakers in May, chairman Tom Dalzell urged legislators to "seriously consider" surrendering pay voluntarily.
In addition to the state's budget concerns, Republican assemblyman Kevin Kiley highlighted "a host of problems" with Smith's expansive proxy voting bill. He said the lack of restraints would lead to abuse and absenteeism among lawmakers.
"The definition of 'emergency' in this bill is quite broad, and so it potentially opens the door to remote or proxy voting being used in a wide range of circumstances," Kiley told the Free Beacon. "What if there's something that's come up in someone's district, does that mean you don't have to go to the Capitol that day, you can just decide to give your vote to someone else? Having served here for a few years, I have no confidence at all that this will be executed in a reasonable way."
Smith previously faced criticism for prioritizing her congressional campaign over her job in the state legislature. As chairwoman of California's Joint Legislative Committee on Emergency Management, she failed to hold a single meeting on the coronavirus despite continuing to hold campaign events. Smith canceled a committee hearing scheduled for March 4, the day after she advanced from a crowded special election primary.
Smith will again face Garcia in California's 25th Congressional District in November. Garcia in May became the first Republican to flip a Democratic seat in the state since 1998. The special election followed former representative Katie Hill's resignation in November over her "throuple" relationship with a campaign staffer.