Californians face an array of profound public policy choices on November’s ballot, from capital punishment and car insurance rates to sweeping tax hikes and the safety of genetically engineered food.

This focus, thankfully, has left lawmakers free to concentrate on more urgent matters, like who has the right to clean your dog’s teeth.

In an episode that speaks volumes about Sacramento’s unblinking focus on special-interest legislation, the state’s veterinary medicine lobby now appears to have prevailed against the less-influential pet-grooming industry in a struggle over regulations to govern Fido’s oral hygiene.

Jerry Roberts

In a session when lawmakers have yet to lift a finger over California’s far-reaching pension crisis, the high-profile showdown over canine gum and tooth care is a splendid illustration of how the Legislature’s primary mission has evolved from serving the public interest to refereeing economic disputes between powerful private interests.

HOW OFTEN DOES HE FLOSS? As every friend to man’s best friend knows, many pet groomers offer low-cost dental care, in the form of scraping and brushing, along with their usual menu of shampooing, cutting, and clipping. Veterinary doctors also provide dentition services but at far higher prices — as much as $800, according to a shaggy-dog story about the issue by Steve Harmon, ace political writer for a string of Bay Area dailies.

He showed how the California Veterinary Medical Association, which spreads hundreds of thousands of dollars of contributions among lawmakers of both parties as part of its lobbying activities, has long sought to eliminate competition from dog groomers. Then state government, in the form of the California’s Veterinarians Medical Board, last year quietly promulgated a regulation restricting the use of metal teeth-cleaning scalers to certified vets, at the expense of groomers.

A lobbyist for the groomers responded by finding a Republican to sponsor a bill expressly authorizing use of the scaling tool by his client-practitioners, complaining that the veterinary board had devised a solution without a problem, given the utter lack of evidence that any dog had ever suffered any harm at the untrained hands of a plaque-scraping pet groomer.

“And then,” Harmon wrote, “Liz came along.”

POMERANIAN MASSACRE: Liz is a five-pound Pomeranian, the owner of which offered emotional testimony to the Assembly Business and Professions Committee about how her pup lost three teeth and required thousands of dollars of medical care after her pet groomer botched a dental session.

That the woman is an aide to a politically wired Democratic county supervisor who’s an ally of the Democratic assemblymember fighting to kill the bill seemed less relevant to the committee than Liz’s tragic tale. In a win for the vets, all six Democrats on the panel rejected the bill, while the three GOP members abstained.

“What this is really about,” said Matt Gray, lobbyist for the pet groomers, “is interfering with commerce for personal financial gain without legitimate public-policy reasoning.”

There were no injuries.

STOMPING ALL OVER TRIXIE’S TURF, II: Liz was not the only pooch at the center of Capitol conflict in recent days.

Governor Brown began his campaign for Proposition 30 — his $8-billion-a-year, temporary tax-increase proposal — at a Sacramento high school last week, where he showed up with Sutter, his pet corgi and the first dog of California.

Clad in a stylish red vest festooned with Prop. 30 stickers, Sutter dutifully barked approvingly when his master began praising the virtues of his tax measure.

Jerry Brown’s dog, Sutter.

“He wants to get a little more attention, see?” the governor told reporters. “He’s a young politician on the make.”

More substantively, Brown quoted from the Gospel of Luke to make his case for his initiative, which would impose higher state income-tax rates on those who make $250,000 or more a year: “To those who much has been given, much will be required,” he said.

Joel Fox, a conservative blogger and advocate for small-business groups who is leading the opposition to Prop. 30, showed up at the event to counter Brown’s arguments and promptly complained the governor was engaged in unfair political practices.

“No fair bringing the dog,” Fox wrote on his website later.

“Not only does the governor use the power of his office to help cajole and persuade; he now is using his cute dog to endear him to his audience,” he said. “Have you ever heard of anything so underhanded?”


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