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Saturday, September 10, 2011

Peter Detwiler, the Real McCoy

September 10, 2011

Peter is a former colleague of mine in the Legislature. To say he was a colleague is incorrect. We worked in the same building, the State Capitol, but he was more like a guru.

I first met Peter when I started back to work for the Legislature in 2000. He was the chief consultant for what was then the Senate Local Govt. committee. Later on new leadership in the Senate combined many of the old traditional committees. Mr. Detwiler retired under the new moniker of Governance and Finance Committee. I preferred Local Govt. Committee.

Legislators and Member’s personal staff rely of committee consultants especially those with so much understanding of the process and historical memory as Peter Detwiler did. He was always willing to help a new staff member along with his bill. Gently, he would explain the law and would ask “just what are you and your boss trying to do with this bill. “ He would then do everything but write the bill himself. His job of course was not to write Member’s bills but point those green staff members in the right direction.

If the bill was definitely a loser, he would suggest they hold off for another session and spend that time refining the bill and developing support.  Even if he was going to trash the bill in his analysis he would do it gently.

Peter was not afraid to trash his own boss’s bills on occasion. His stature transcended even the stature of a sitting member of the Legislature and a chair of the committee. With the advent of term limits members come and go and there is no institutional memory. It falls to senior staff and committee consultants to provide that link. Staff changes are often as Members do because legislative staff are constantly looking for that perfect job with higher pay. They don’t stay around long enough to learn the job. It used to be that staff stayed with the Member for years. Term limits has changed the legislature for the worse. In my view it is an experiment gone wrong.

For more than 30 years Peter Detwiler has helped lawmakers understand and shape the laws that govern us. Few people outside of the Capitol have even heard of Peter Detwiler; but all of us who know Peter and worked with him over the years know that the institution of the California Legislature will a smaller place without him. He was always fair; never imperial like some of the senior committee consultants and always a good guy.

Peter, Enjoy your retirement and never look back.

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