SACRAMENTO, CA — Former Assemblywoman Patty Berg knew exactly where to pass the hat to bankroll a training program for California's eight new female legislators in a state with a multibillion- dollar deficit: Capitol interest groups.
The result is the Institute for Elected Women, a first-of-its-kind program beginning Monday in which freshmen lawmakers will be taught the how-tos and what-to-avoids by a powerhouse lineup of female politicians, Democrats and Republicans, past and present.
Republican Kristin Olsen of Modesto, the newly elected 25th District Assemblywoman, could not be reached Saturday to confirm whether she will attend.
"I think it's fabulous," said Berg, a Eureka Democrat. "There is nothing (else) now like what we've created — a training program that uses women who have been there and done that to say, 'OK, now you're ready to walk in the door, this is what you need to know (to be effective).' "
Funding for the nascent program, however, flows from some of the state's most powerful corporate interests — from AT&T to Edison International.
A planned two-year mentoring program would join novice lawmakers with colleagues and predecessors, some of whom are now registered lobbyists.
The program certainly has its detractors.
"These corporations buy the election, they fund the lobbyists and now they're training the new lawmakers — it's just too much," said Doug Heller of Consumer Watchdog, a nonprofit advocacy group.
Bob Stern, of the Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles, said he applauds extensive training for freshmen legislators but that it should be done by the Legislature itself — not by groups that seek lawmakers' votes.
Indeed, the Assembly provides several days of training on topics from legislative ethics to introducing bills and serving on policy committees. Berg's institute vows to expand upon that by guiding women on how to be most effective.
Topics to be addressed by the new institute include how to secure top-notch staff, build relationships with legislative colleagues, balance home and work lives, work with lobbyists and develop successful media and public relations strategies.
"What we want to do is to give them a little bit of a leg up," said former Sen. Sheila Kuehl, a Santa Monica Democrat who is helping Berg launch the institute.
The institute targets women, in part, because they are vastly outnumbered at the Capitol — 32 of 120 lawmakers in the upcoming session — and because many find it helpful to discuss how best to assert themselves, gain confidence and get things done legislatively, according to institute supporters.
"This effort is a terrific example of how women can come together across party lines to help each other," said Debbie Baldwin, director of the Center for American Women and Politics, a nonmonetary partner of the institute.
The Assembly also is assisting by providing a committee room for training, and an office for Berg and Kuehl, among other things.
Twenty corporate sponsors are paying $5,000 to $10,000 apiece for the program.
Sponsors are not involved in developing curriculum or handling presentations, but they can attend dinners after each day of training and a final reception.
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