A vote by San Francisco Assemblywoman Fiona Ma to kill a fellow Democrat’s environmental bill has sparked questions about whether the move was a form of political payback.
Ma, D-San Francisco, voted against Assemblyman Das Williams’ AB 1176, a bill that would have placed tighter regulations and controls on toxic pesticides.
Ma, the state Speaker Pro Tempore, was one of two Democrats who voted alongside Republicans against the bill on Jan. 11, at a meeting of the Agriculture Committee. Cathleen Galgiani, who represents the Central Valley, and who is running for a state Senate seat this year, voted against it.
Williams and representatives from the Ventura-based social justice group CAUSE are disappointed that Ma, a San Francisco lawmaker, would oppose the environmental bill.
The bill is important because it would have dramatically shortened the process for evaluating and regulating pesticides:
The bill would have required the Department of Pesticide Regulations on a more timely basis to develop control measures and evaluate the effects of pesticides that qualify as Toxic Air Contaminants.
That process can currently take up to eight years. Williams’ bill would have required the state to develop control measures within two years of identifying a pesticide as a toxic air contaminant.
Why would Fiona Ma do this? Well, the circumstantial evidence suggests personal animus. She just got married to Jason Hodge, candidate for SD19 against Hannah-Beth Jackson, who is herself a close ally and mentor to Das Williams:
Ma is married to Jason Hodge, a firefighter and member of the Oxnard Harbor Commission, who is also running for state Senate against Hannah Beth-Jackson.
Williams supports Jackson, one of his mentors, and has been busy helping her in her campaign. Ma too has had an increasing presence in Santa Barbara politics. Ma gave former Santa Barbara City Council candidate Deborah Schwartz $5,000 in 2011.
Jackson and Hodge are tangled in a fierce battle for the 19th state Senate District seat. Although Jackson, a former assembly member, is deeply entrenched in Sacramento politics and has strong local ties to the Santa Barbara County Democratic Party, Hodge has racked up dozens of notable endorsements from labor associations.
It is curious that Ma would interject herself so personally into a feud that has been developing for years, at the expense of the health of all Californians. It’s no secret to central coast Democrats that there has been bad blood between progressives in the Santa Barbara and Ventura County Democratic establishments, and certain factions of labor allied with Pedro Nava and his friends. While the first battles began somewhat beforehand, the conflict came fully into the open when then Santa Barbara city councilman Das Williams challenged Pedro Nava’s wife Susan Jordan for AD35. Local progressive Democrats (including myself and Santa Barbara Dem Chair Daraka Larimore-Hall) and several labor unions quickly rallied around the more progressive Williams, while more conservative Tri-Counties Central Labor Council President Marilyn Valenzuela and her allies–including Jason Hodge–rallied behind Jordan. Mr. Williams won decisively. Since then, Pedro Nava has gone on a vendetta against local Democrats, endorsing and doing robocalls for DTS candidates against the endorsements of the Santa Barbara and Ventura County Democratic Parties. When I ran for Party Chair in Ventura County two years ago, Ms. Valenzuela and Mr. Hodge used every piece of leverage in their power to oppose me and the progressive faction, ultimately defeating me by one vote, but were unable to prevent a majority of the Executive Board from falling into progressive hands, including my own election as 1st Vice Chair.
Now, with Mr. Hodge running as a centrist against the more progressive Hannah-Beth Jackson, the feuding battle lines have deepened. Hannah-Beth Jackson won the pre-endorsement vote with approximately 74% against Mr. Hodge; nearly every grassroots vote went to Jackson, but votes from a single Dem club controlled by Ms. Valenzuela gave Hodge almost the entirety of his 26% after an aggressive dues-free membership drive to influence the process.
It is into this hornet’s nest that Fiona Ma has voluntarily walked for her new husband. Fiona’s defense of her vote is that it would create a burdensome new regulatory step:
“After numerous meetings with many stakeholders and educating myself on the list of chemicals in question, I ultimately agreed with the Analysis by the Environment/Safety and Toxic Committee that said: ‘AB 1176 replaces the interdepartmental pesticide prioritization process initiated in 2004 by DPR (Department of Pesticide Regulations) with the Office of Environmental Health and Hazards Assessment and the Air Resources Board. This time consuming, unnecessary step would require significant staffing increases for all three agencies, especially for OEHHA and DPR to review pesticides that do not need or merit this review.'” [Emphasis added]
But there is no reason to believe that any of this is true. The bill is tightly written to speed the regulatory process; it’s true that extra regulatory staff would probably be required to speed along the review process to ensure that dangerous contaminants are stopped within years, rather than decades. But complaining of needed extra staff is reminiscent of conservative arguments against every regulatory improvement, including the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. It is particularly hard to believe that Ms. Ma is acting in good faith given that 1) she and her husband have both taken significant campaign contributions from pesticide companies ($1,500 from Monsanto and $2,500 from Trical to both Ma and Hodge, each) and given that her stated reasons for opposing the bill are almost directly drawn from the language of pesticide and big ag companies themselves against the bill. Compare this section quoted from a group letter signed by big ag advocates and the California Chamber of Commerce, to Ma’s statement above:
AB1176 would require a mandatory review and written concurrence of every federal Hazardous Air Pollutant that is identified as a TAC, many of which have been removed from use or phased out. This time consuming, unnecessary step would require significant staffing increases for all three agencies, especially for OEHHA and DPR to review pesticides that do not need or merit this review. [[Emphasis added]
That group letter was penned in April/May 2011, when those organizations still opposed sections of the proposed law. Williams worked with the opposition to remove the objectionble portions while maintaining its intent, which is to be more responsive to protecting Californians’ health. That same opposition group wrote a follow-up letter on Jan. 9 to the chair of the Ag Committee, of which Ma is a member, clearly removing their opposition. Yet she still quotes that earlier opposition, nearly verbatim, to support her Nay vote. I’m told by various sources that had she accepted one of three simple phone calls from Williams, the amendments that were made in May 2011 could have easily been explained to the Speaker Pro Tem.
But this is not the first time that Fiona Ma has taken curious stands against a popular bill by Williams. She also played a role in weakening Williams’ AB438 against library privatization, and is rumored to be putting up obstacles to a Williams-authored farmworker bill currently in the works.
Californians deserve better than to have good legislation crucial to our collective health killed by influential politicians, in order to benefit campaign contributors and settle petty personal scores for their new spouse’s political allies. That’s behavior one would expect from Republicans, but not from Democrats.