CAI’s California Legislative Action Committee is supporting AB 2273, which requires recordation of properties bought at foreclosure auction sales within thirty days. We talked with Assemblymember Bob Wieckowski, the bill’s author, to learn a little more about him and why this topic is something he is willing to fight for:
Why did you become a bankruptcy attorney before becoming an Assemblyman?
WIECKOWSKI: After graduating from UC Berkeley, I went off to Washington, D.C. for five years, and served as a legislative and policy staffer to then Congressman Don Edwards. He was a tremendous progressive leader, and fought for working families and the working poor. I considered him a great mentor. Under Edwards’ leadership, the historic Bankruptcy Reform Act of 1978 was passed, which created new reorganizing tools for struggling businesses and individuals. This landmark act still serves as the law regulating bankruptcy cases to this day. This was really a point where I clearly saw how government could have a positive impact for people, and impact the quality of their lives. After I got back from DC, I went to law school at Santa Clara University, graduated, and then opened my own private practice, focusing on bankruptcy, debt relief, and reorganization. I help people keep their homes, their businesses, and live with dignity. It’s incredibly fulfilling. I still practice (part time). I believe I’m the only person in the Legislature who has served as a bankruptcy attorney, so it allows me to offer a unique perspective on our state and local budget problems.
How did you first get involved in politics?
WIECKOWSKI: As I started to mention above, I graduated from UC Berkeley in 1977 with a degree in Political Science, and spent 5 years in Washington DC as a policy staffer to Congressman Don Edwards. This was my first in-depth exposure to the political process. I liked it. I truly believe that government can improve the quality of people’s lives, and I saw that first hand working for Congressman Edwards. We fought for working families and the working poor – and tried to carry and support legislation that would open the doors of opportunity to all Americans. Now, some 30 years later, as a Member of the California State Assembly, I am continuing that fight for the same core issues: access to quality and affordable education, access to affordable health care, equal rights, and protections for California’s working families.
Was there something specific that motivated you to run for the Assembly?
WIECKOWSKI: The notion that I could help improve the quality of people’s lives – and help fight for those who don’t have a voice. Those are the things that drive me every day – and they are awesome responsibilities that I take very seriously. If you look at my legislative package this (and last) year, you’ll notice a theme – I’m fighting for access and opportunity.
Are there any similarities between your previous profession and your Assembly position in terms of making public policy?
WIECKOWSKI: Absolutely. And actually – I believe – my expertise gives me a unique perspective that my other colleagues may not have. I have the expertise and skills to handle debt restructuring and bankruptcy, and I deal daily with families that are struggling to stay afloat and make ends meet. That’s not so different from where we are in California, today, unfortunately. California is looking at a $16 Billion deficit, local municipalities are starting to declare bankruptcy because they can’t meet their fiscal obligations, student loan debt has reached an all time high and is crippling young people, medical debt is the number one cause of individual bankruptcies. I’m trying to add a voice that is usually missing at the state level, one that is calm and pragmatic. In my bankruptcy practice I had plenty of experience in making the tough calls. Legislatively, I channeled that same response when I authored and passed a bill (AB 506) which created a neutral third-party evaluation process for municipalities that they needed to undergo prior to filing municipal bankruptcy. I was uniquely suited to deal with the issue of municipal bankruptcies because most legislators don’t know as much about restructuring tools like bonds – the insurance, liquidity, the underwriting process, how to issue them… I had that knowledge and was able to use it to benefit California and our local cities.
What prompted the introduction of AB 2273?
WIECKOWSKI: People have come to my office for years seeking relief from the foreclosure process. It used to be that the foreclosure sales took place on the steps of the County Recorder’s Office so that once the auction happened, the recordation happened. Now it’s like a free loan, because banks don’t record and don’t pay taxes (or assessments, or maintain the property). Banks are riding on the backs of the people, and I believed that had to STOP.
What do you hope the impact of AB 2273 will be?
WIECKOWSKI: To have certainty in the chain of title of property. We want to know that the responsible persons are paying the fees, and that the properties are properly managed. This is a part of the process I feel that we can fix. There will still be the folks that don’t pay and don’t maintain, but this is different, because the Bank is making the CHOICE not to pay. With this bill we’re going against the banks, making them do something they don’t want to do, because they want to manage their cash flow. My response to that is, in the words of Spike Lee – “Do the Right Thing.”
I definitely want to hold Banks more accountable, and I think that’s what AB 2273 does.
What are your future goals during your tenure as an Assembly Member in California?
WIECKOWSKI: My number one legislative priority is job creation. I believe we can bring back manufacturing to California, and I think our great state can become a model of excellence across the country in the area of clean and green technology – so those are a few of my main issues. I am also interested in structurally turning the state around, dealing with our deficit, and helping to promote the economic rebound. That includes streamlining government and getting rid of waste. At the end of the day, I want to continue to be a champion for working families, to help Californians get back to work, and help them realize their own personal successes, by giving them the tools they need to pursue their dreams.