After nearly 20 years as a fixture on the liberal stage in Los Angeles and Sacramento, state Sen. Diane Watson will be forced out of her post next year under term limits.

But Watson is not going quietly. She is using her position to carry the banner for those she sees as losers under welfare reform: women and drug users in the South Central Los Angeles. That area, which lies within her district, is one of the poorest and highest crime areas in Southern California.

And just last week, in the wake of the car crash that killed Princess Diana on Aug. 31, Watson called for state legislation that would place restrictions on paparazzi journalists and photographers.

Facing the inevitability of leaving her Senate post, Watson is reportedly pursuing the post of ambassador to Micronesia, which has been vacant since another California politician, former Secretary of State March Fong Eu, left in July 1996.

Question: It’s been about a year since welfare reform was signed into law. Why have you continued to be so involved in its implementation?

Answer: We have 2.6 million people on welfare in California, the most by far of any state. Here in my district, I have areas where the unemployment rate is 67 percent that’s six-seven percent. There are just no jobs. I know this because I live in this community. I have always lived here. In fact, I was born here. My office has dealt with these issues day in and day out.

People are going to fail in the system. They are going to do everything by the rules. But they are just not going to be able to get to the jobs way over on the Westside or way downtown because of the transportation system.

Also, on the drug treatment provisions, the federal law says that any convicted drug felon is prohibited for life from receiving benefits. That would be maybe one out of four people in the disadvantaged areas of my district. Many of those are mothers with children. The “war on drugs” just doesn’t reach into certain communities.

Q: What should be the role of employers under welfare reform? Should they be required to provide a job for everyone coming off the welfare rolls?

A: My biggest argument is that the corporate community is not yet ready to take welfare recipients. My friends in the business community tell me that they need people who are highly trained, who will add to their profit margin. Eighty-five percent of welfare recipients are women. Many of those are teenagers who have dropped out of school and have babies of their own. These people need a high school diploma. Why should an employer take in a young woman who can’t even read the job application she has to fill out?

Now as to the bigger question, I just don’t think there are enough jobs out there for all the recipients. If you go east of here (the district office at Crenshaw Boulevard and Vernon Avenue) and if you go south, there are just no jobs. The huge industries that were there 30 and 40 years ago have left. And then of course there are huge swaths of vacant land left by the uprisings. There are no big employers and I don’t see many businesses rushing in to take advantage of the enterprise zone.

That’s why I’m carrying micro-enterprise legislation that will give assistance to welfare recipients to form their own micro-enterprises. You will ultimately need a combination of corporate employers, micro-enterprises and county-developed jobs. We cannot depend on the business and corporate community to do this alone.

Q: You have been outspoken on the issue of paparazzi pursuing celebrities in the wake of the crash that killed Princess Diana. Why is this such a concern to you?

A: I felt a sense of shock and outrage at the hounding to death of Princess Diana. I believe that such practices should be investigated and restricted so that this kind of incident is less likely to happen again. In my own district, I have some neigborhoods where celebrities live, like Hancock Park and Cheviot Hills. I would support a bill to ensure that there are some restrictions, but only after some investigation or hearings.

Q: You’ve been in the Legislature now for nearly 20 years. What’s it like to serve there now compared with when you entered in 1978?

A: Two major things have changed the Legislature. One was Proposition 13. When it passed, it shifted the power from the local government to the state. The state was in control of resources that should have been done on the local level. We took away their power, their influence to be effective on the local level and gave it to the state.

The second thing was Proposition 140, term limits. What I’ve seen is the disappearance of long-term commitments to good public policy. What I see is that you have people taking time out of their lives to run to reduce the size of government.

You lose continuity. For instance, I’ve been working in the social services area for 16 years now. There are programs that I helped put into place breast cancer programs, prostate cancer programs, etc. These programs take years and years to pass and get a governor’s signature. Term limits doesn’t allow time to deal with a public policy that is complex. In six years, you can’t even find your way to the rest room for half that time.

Also, you don’t have players capable of reaching out and building coalitions. You are seeing the last of these now in Bill Lockyer.

When (former Assembly Speaker) Jesse Unruh came in, he built a base. He had allies and he really understood the nature of the Legislature.

Q: Was Unruh a role model for you?

A: I would say he was probably one of the foremost legislative role models in this country. He understood that California needed full-time attention to policy. So that’s when he came up with the idea for a full-time Legislature and the need to hire consultants with expertise to analyze the needs and provide that analysis to members.

Q: What are your plans after your term is up?

A: I do have some options. My major option now is that I have been appointed by the President for a diplomatic post. I am going through the process right now and expect to go into hearings this month. I still have to go in front of Jesse Helms. I see I’m in for a real challenge.

Q: And where is the post?

A: Well, I’m not supposed to comment. But apparently CalPeek (California Political Week) and some of the others say I’m taking March Fong Eu’s spot (as ambassador to the Federated States of Micronesia, which has been vacant since July 1996).

This is something I have been wanting to do for years. In fact, I applied in 1992. I was given an option in 1994. I turned it down. My sister died the same week they called me.

Q: If this doesn’t come through, do you have any other things lined up?

A: I might go into a post as executive director for a foundation on children’s issues that I’ve been a part of for a long time.

Q: As you look back on your time in the Legislature, what do you see as your greatest achievement?

A: My legislation bringing attention to women’s and children’s issues has been my greatest achievement. I’ve been able to sensitize legislators to the needs of families.

Q: Who are you backing for governor?

A: I think that if Dianne Feinstein runs, she would be an excellent candidate. Gray Davis, who would be my candidate, I think would be an excellent candidate. He’s been there; he really ran government under Jerry Brown.

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