Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Moderate Democrats in California: Really?

I am glad that in the Golden State, I have one newspaper I can go to for the inner workings of state politics and government. Not that I take the Sacramento Bee as Gospel Truth, of course, but someone has to report on what state legislators are doing.

Or undoing.

This report talked about the power of the "moderate bloc" of legislators in the state capitol. "Moderate Democrat" is not always in my vocabulary, unless they prove it and vote for a Republican Presidential or state candidate.

So far, I have met some moderate Democrats who fit that description, and I look forward to working with more of them. I even found Facebook Community pages showcasing Democrats against Hillary, Barack Obama, illegal immigration, as well as Democrats who support natural marriage, school choice, and unborn children.

The SacBee article first described a weakened Democratic majority unable to accomplish much:

On the final day of the session Friday, Democrats who dominate the California Assembly labored to pass a watered-down measure expanding the state’s unpaid family leave policy.

They were at least eight votes short, with stiff resistance from business-friendly moderates in their party. Senate Bill 406 had been a major target for the California Chamber of Commerce, which placed the measure on its list of “job killer” legislation. Earlier, it had been weakened in the Assembly to reduce the number of businesses to which it would apply.

Sometimes, the Chamber of Commerce gets its right. Sometimes.

Pictures of frantic Democratic lawmakers fill the next two paragraphs, begging for their colleagues to move on their legislation. For once, legislators are working with each other rather than tagging special interest groups and union lobbyists to move bills.

But the level of persuasion needed to advance even weakened legislation underscores the influence of moderate Assembly Democrats – a loosely formed group elected with the help of corporate interests. Their mark was most indelible on the just-completed session, where time after time they thwarted liberal legislation, from climate change to minimum wage.

Climate change has turned into corporate alarmism, a trumped-up fraud to move Big Green into mainstream.

“It seems to me, just like ‘Orange is the New Black,’ mod is the new ‘Cool Dem,’ ” Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, said Saturday.

She said she’s observed a strategy of lobbyists on bills destined to pass the Senate.

“I hear them say, ‘We’ll stop it in the Assembly. We’ll just shut it down there,’ ” Mitchell said. “There really was that confidence. I don’t know that I heard that as consistently in past years.”

Assemblymembers  know that they can face intra-party challenges as well as opposing party fights. They have to reach out to all voters in more concerted efforts to win.

One of the "moderate Dems" explained who they are, what they are doing, and why?

Assemblyman Adam Gray, a Merced Democrat who often sides with the powerful moderate bloc, said much of the defiance came down to members unwilling to relinquish their oversight authority to a state commission he dismissed as “unelected bureaucrats.”

“Certain people tried to tell a story that this bill was about the oil producers,” Gray said. “I think the real story is people having independent voices and standing up for their districts.”

"An independent voice. . .standing up for their districts." Marks of what the Citizens Redistricting Commission accomplished.

Some of the same members hastened the demise of another climate-related bill by Democratic Sen. Fran Pavley that sought to extend the state’s greenhouse gas emissions limit to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

Moderates significantly altered or blocked several bills.

Last month, the Assembly Appropriations Committee refused to advance minimum wage legislation, inviting the fury of labor groups and some of their allies in the Legislature. Senate Bill 3, another “job killer,” originally proposed to hike the state’s minimum wage to $11 an hour in 2016 and $13 in 2017 and then index it to inflation starting in 2019. Last year, a similar proposal died in an Assembly committee.

Following the latest setback, Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, said the state should look into regional minimum wages that vary across the state.

From dumb to dumber. Give me a break. So glad that Speaker Toni is taking off, never to be seen again.

As the clock ticked down on the session, there was hope among advocates that the lower house might resurrect a pair of tobacco-related bills when members huddled in caucus. Senators want to raise the legal smoking age to 21 and to regulate proliferating e-cigarettes as the state does tobacco products. Both measures cleared the Senate before running aground in the Assembly.

This dynamic reminds me of the United States Congress. The US Senate pushes more Big Government legislation, only to find it gets killed in the US House. Bills like reinstating the crony Ex-Im bank, or amnesty, all perish in the more populist House, since representatives at the state and federal level face the wrath of the voters every two years.

Asked about the proliferation of business-linked Democrats in her caucus, Atkins largely downplayed their clout during a somber news conference announcing the SB 350 defeat, offering that “this feels like a typical legislative session to me.”

“Do I think there are interests out there that push their agendas? Absolutely,” Atkins said “That happens when I walk out my front door and my neighbor wants their sidewalk fixed.”

Part of what’s made the moderate contingent potent is its unofficial leadership and members. They do, however, derive financial support from many of the same sources. Moderate Democrats raised 15 percent of their contributions from labor, compared with the 19.4 percent for other Assembly Democrats, according to a campaign finance analysis from January 2013 to June. And the moderates took in 9.1 percent from energy and natural resource interests like oil companies, compared with 6 percent for other Democrats. The group has expanded in recent years, as the shift to a top-two primary system has given business donors a new avenue to influence a Legislature controlled by Democrats.

Senator Jim Beall of San Jose suggested more than the two-year term as a factor in killing certain bills:

Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, noted the “obvious factor” that Assembly members must stand for re-election every two years instead of four. Less conspicuous are the self-imposed corporate fundraising restrictions on senators before they take up the budget, and during the last month of session. “The blackout period for the Senate helped us focus on policy and legislation” instead of attending the flurry of late fundraisers.

“Quite a long list of fundraisers took place in the Assembly,” Beall said, adding, “When you have the fundraisers, that distracts you quite a bit.”

Another view:

Rob Lapsley, president of the California Business Roundtable, attributed the year’s dynamic in the Assembly to the state’s uneven economic rebound.

“It was the concern about all the cost impacts on the districts that still have higher unemployment, a much higher poverty rate – and they are voting their districts, their constituents,” he said.

How about that? People who live in California would like to be able to stay here, and much of the state senate's legislative priorities have not factored that in - at all.

Final Reflection

I agree with Dan Walters' assessment about the moderating influence of redistricting on state legislators. They have to pay more attention to their districts and constituents rather than lobbyists and partisan interests in Sacramento.

Moderate Democrats, pro-business, working class representatives in the Inland Empire, may be easy seats to flip in the near future. Republicans who can tailor a message to focus on these bread and butter issues, with candidates who reflect the district, can win.

Californians in general should focus more on what the state legislature is doing, and recognize that their jobs are on the chopping block. With enough pressure, they can start voting the way we want them to, or voters can mobilize to throw them out.

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