November’s Blue Wave gives California’s Democratic legislature the opportunity to do more than simply resist the Trumpian agenda.
If they move wisely, the Golden State will serve as an example of what’s possible in an era when good governance serving the needs of all the people takes precedence over schemes designed to line the pockets of the few at the expense of the many.
Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon has a “gigamajority,” with 60 of the 80 seats in that chamber affiliated with his party. Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins shares a party affiliation with 29 of the 40 members in her chamber.
Devotees of centrist politics are twisting themselves into pretzel shapes trying to sow skepticism over what the legislature’s left leaning majority will mean.
Here’s columnist George Skelton at the Los Angeles Times:
Californians can be forgiven if they’re slightly nervous about the new two-year legislative session that’s starting. Democrats haven’t wielded this much power in 136 years.
Even a devoted Democratic voter should wince at the overwhelming one-party rule. It’s not exactly what the nation’s founders had in mind and bears watching closely. Exhibit A: One-party Republican control in Washington the last two years.
[Note: There’s nothing about political parties in the constitution. George Washington was opposed to “factions,” as he called them.]
In Sacramento, the Democrats’ power will be checked only by themselves. There won’t be enough Republicans and moderate Democrats in the Legislature to beat back liberals on most issues even if they wanted to team up.
This year’s legislative class is more seasoned; the 8 new Assembly members and 9 new senators taking their first oath were the smallest group of newcomers in three decades. A voter-approved change in term-limit rules now allows lawmakers to run for the same office for up to 12 years.
John Myers at the Los Angeles Times gave some background on this change:
The original term limits were enacted in 1990 as backers of Proposition 140 accused “career politicians” in their statewide ballot argument of having “cozy relationships with special interests.” What voters created that November was, at the time, one of the nation’s strictest policies on legislative service. A lawmaker could serve no more than six years in the Assembly or eight in the Senate — 14 years of total time in elected office if choosing to switch from one chamber to the other.
In the two decades that followed, Californians didn’t exactly see impressive results. Approval ratings for the Legislature ranged from mediocre to poor, plummeting to single digits during years in which lawmakers squabbled over large state budget deficits. That gave critics of the 1990 law an opportunity.
Their 2012 campaign insisted the new rules would bring stability and actually tighten term limits — technically true but hardly the whole story. Legislators can now serve up to 12 years, two less than those who used to jump from one house to the other. But because it’s now possible to stay in one job, there are more incumbents on the ballot. Incumbents are generally better at raising money and thus more likely to win reelection.
Ten of this year’s 17 new members are women, bringing the total to 36. Still, women make up up only 30% of the law making bodies. Senator-elect Melissa Hurtado is the youngest woman ever to serve in the state Senate, along with being the first Democrat to serve from Tulare County since 2010.
A record 17 of 29 Latino Legislative Caucus Legislators are women, for the first time, two Latinas (Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez as chair and Senator Maria Elena Durazo as vice chair) will lead the group.
San Diego’s Assemblymember Shirley Weber will be chairing the California Legislative Black Caucus.
A legislature dominated by a single party does not equal unanimity on every issue, as CalMatters pointed out in their post-election analysis:
“We’ve got a good situation with a very pro-worker Legislature in both chambers,” said Steve Smith, spokesman for the California Labor Federation, a union group.
But he acknowledged that with more Democrats come more factions—and disagreements that may not fall along traditional fault lines that, for example, pit environmentalists versus the oil industry. The gig economy presents new political issues that may divide Democrats next year, as tech companies will likely push to change a court ruling that limits the use of independent contractors, and labor unions work to hold it intact. Some Democrats who are progressive on environmental issues may skew more business-friendly when it comes to pressure from Silicon Valley or charter schools.
“This is not your grandfather’s labor versus business fight any more,” Smith said. “There are all kinds of layers that didn’t exist 20 years ago.”
So what is the legislature likely to accomplish this year?
- You can expect there will be bills introduced in response to this year’s batch of wild fires. Proposals dealing with building codes and tons of debate over the future (or lack thereof) for Pacific Gas and Electric are already in the works.
- Preschool education is about as sure a bet as you’re going to see in Sacramento this year. Expanded subsidies for low income children and support for building infrastructure are already on the table.
- The big push in the more-labor friendly legislature is already on the table, as Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez has announced a bill designed to institutionalize the provisions of the “Dynamex ruling” making it harder for employers to classify workers as independent contractors
- Redevelopment 2.0 will try to bring those disbanded agencies back into being, with the idea of using them as funding vehicles for low income housing.
- The talking heads at Trump TV, aka Fox News, will have plenty to freak out about as Democrats work on expanding government-funded health care to undocumented adults, the largest segment of Californians who lack access to insurance.
- Assemblymember Todd Gloria has announced his intention to address the accrual of billions of dollars in unspent Mental Health Services Act (MHSA) funds currently sitting in the coffers of California counties. (The California State Auditor has determined California counties are holding onto a total of $2 billion in unspent MHSA funds.)
- Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez has re-introduced legislation to exempt diapers intended for children 2 years old or younger from the state sales tax. The measure would save families approximately $100 per child every year – the average cost of buying a month’s worth of diapers.
Back to the big picture…
Via Manuel Pastor and Chris Benner at The American Prospect:
If progressives hope to show what they are for and not just want they are against, states will be a key battlefront and testing ground. After all, the New Deal—the national social compact that dealt with the insecurities and fears of an earlier economic era—was actually developed by state-level experimentation that later became the basis for federal policy. California, having proudly served as the face of resistance – with its attorney general repeatedly suing the Trump administration to protect gains on immigrant rights and climate policy—now needs to offer an alternative that tackles the economic inequality and insecurity plaguing many Americans.
California is important for another reason: in many ways, it is America fast-forward. Its demographic change foreshadowed the nation’s—and its reaction to that change, which took the form of 1994’s Proposition 187, a measure that sought to strip social and educational services from undocumented residents, certainly seems to be echoed in the current Trump moment. What many forget about that era is that California also experienced nearly half of the nation’s total job losses incurred in the early recession of the 1990s, as its aerospace industry—then a proud source of high-wage employment—shrank by nearly 45 percent due to the end of the Cold War and cutbacks in defense spending. The state’s hard times stirred up the sort of demographic anxiety and economic uncertainty that is currently plaguing the nation.
Putting all the good vibes in Sacramento aside for a moment, the short-sighted policies of the Trump administration are likely to hasten (and worsen) the boom and bust cycle of capitalism. I call it a sugar high.
The changing nature of the economy means the next crash will have as yet unseen impacts on those of us not privileged enough to be feeding at the trough of the oligarchs empowered by the right’s vision of laissez faire.
Another unpredictable element will be the ascendancy of authoritarianism nationally. The Donald is merely a symptom. His enablers and wannabe brown shirts are a real threat to democracy. The judges Sen. McConnell is cramming into the system are there to serve as the ultimate bulwark against a progressive revival. Right wing militancy designed to intimidate agencies of change is fueled by the administration’s untruths.
These are tough times. I wish the Democrats in the House of Representatives and Sacramento the best of luck. They’re gonna need it.
Countdown to The End. Friday, December 14, will mark the end of this version of the San Diego Free Press, along with this column.
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