SACRAMENTO -- In a rare occurrence at the Capitol, a politician apologized.
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, issued a mea culpa to reporters Monday, saying he "messed up" last week when he cancelled the cable television broadcast of a hearing on the four ballot measures on taxes and the budget.
"I want to apologize to the press and the public" for cancelling the telecast, Steinberg said. "I pride myself on being open and transparent.
"When you mess up, you mess up. Messed up. Hope we can move on, I'm sorry and it won't happen again."
Steinberg, who is perhaps the most accessible politician at the Capitol, admitted that he was worried that opponents to Gov. Jerry Brown's tax measure would use footage from the hearing to gain political advantage.
"The rationale was (I) didn't want the hearing to be political fodder because it involves the initiatives. It was a screw up," he said. "It was a more general worry that footage would be taken and used in political campaigns. But that wasn't a good reason."
In particular, Steinberg may have been fearful that one of the witnesses, Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers' Association, was going to testify about recent pay hikes Steinberg gave to staff members as an example of why legislators shouldn't be trusted with taxpayer dollars.
The hearing took testimony from the pro and con sides of Props. 30, 31, 38 and 39.
Wolk, who said she did not know about the cancellation, reacted angrily when informed with a terse statement saying she had nothing to do with it.
Opponents jumped on Steinberg's apology.
Aaron McLear, a Republican consultant and former spokesman for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, tweeted it was the " 'Height of Gall' to applogize (sic) after the crime -- kinda like doing a 'pay freeze' right after giving raises."
Matt Rexroad, another Republican consultant, was a bit more forgiving in his own tweet: "Steinberg made mistake. He admitted it & hopefully will end up w/ a better future process. Some wouldn't even admit it."
Coupal said he was scratching his head on this one.
"I guess at one level, I'm pleased to see he's seen the errors of his way," Coupal said. "But his actions played into one of our overall themes of the campaign that the special interests drive the process."
Philip Ung, of California Common Cause, applauded Steinberg's apology, saying his decision to cut off TV coverage amounted to an "egregious example of censorship."
"Voters don't usually hear elected officials admitting mistakes and Senator Steinberg should be commended for apologizing, though he should have recognized that he shouldn't have made the mistake in the first place."
Ung said Steinberg could erase the mistake if he calls for new, televised, hearings on the ballot measures.
"We'd like a mulligan," Ung said. "If he really believes it was a mistake, they should do it again."
Steinberg said he "would certainly be open to" running the hearings again, and also to the idea of changing Senate house rules to require the telecast of ballot measure hearings.