Tag Archives: Legislature

Your New Legislators: The Term Limits Dance Shifts

New term limits mean more changes now, more stability later

by Brian Leubitz

With the new term limits structure amendments of a few years ago, Sacramento is seeing a lot of change. Lots and lots and lots of change. In the Legislature convening today, 72 of the 120 legislators have less than two years of experience at the state level. That’s a staggeringly high number, and rather frightening for the institutional memory of both chambers. If you look at the new leadership team in the Assembly, you’ll find freshmen legislators David Chiu, Evan Low (Both pictured to the right), Jim Cooper and Miguel Santiago all in prominent positions.

“When the voters approved term limits they voted to limit the amount of experience the Legislature had,” said former Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, D-Los Angeles. “Institutional memory is found outside of the building and the staff, which is not the best thing for democracy.”

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In the past, new members looked to their veteran colleagues to ease an initiation process that Kathy Dresslar, who was chief of staff to former Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, likened to a “drink from the fire hose.” As term limits force those more seasoned members from the Legislature, Dresslar said, newer members are increasingly taking their cues from staff or from lobbyists.

“The new legislators today are still learning from the former members, but the former members are more likely to be lobbyists here in town,” Dresslar said. “So that perspective is passed down from the former members’ clients.” (SacBee)

Not to say that there aren’t great staff in the Legislature, but they weren’t elected to anything. And certainly the lobbyists that are crawling all over Sacramento were never elected. And for the next few years, staff and lobbyists will have an outsized role in governance.

But, all that being said, we have the opportunity for something of a “Pax Sacramento” where a Legislature will, for the most part, remain consistent for the better part of a decade. The new term limits allow for twelve year terms in either chamber, and those 72 members will be joined by another big class in 2016. After that, the changes will dwindle to a trickle for the better part of a decade. Now, that isn’t to say that all will go swimmingly, but the merry go-round will certainly decrease. I tend to be a bit skeptical that stability alone can create real change.

But with strong Democratic majorities for the foreseeable future, one could hold out hope for a functional Legislature.

Field: Big Lead for Brown, Legislature’s Approval Slips Back

Field Poll shows Legislature took hit after recent controversy

by Brian Leubitz

Field is in the midst of their most recent data dump, and you can’t help but feel that Gov. Brown is all smiles. First, there’s the fact that he has a 20 point lead over Neel Kashkari

The results of the latest Field Poll show incumbent Democratic Governor Jerry Brown leading Republican challenger Neel Kashkari by twenty points, 52% to 32%, among likely voters in this year’s gubernatorial election.  … Brown is regarded favorably by 54% of likely voters, while 31% have an unfavorable opinion. Following his second place showing in the June primary, Kashkari is viewed favorably by 28%, while 16% of voters hold an unfavorable opinion of him.

In addition, the Poll finds 54% of voters approving of the job Brown is doing as governor, while 29% disapprove. (Field PDF)

The Governor’s approval rating during this term has been as low as 43%, before reaching a high of 59% in April of this year. While it did slip, when combined with his mound of campaign funds, the contest between Brown and Kashkari doesn’t really seem a fair fight. Barring some major shift of the political landscape, you have to feel that Brown should defeat Kashkari handily.

Now, on the other side, the Legislature was so close to actually having a net favorable rating. The institution’s ratings were trending up from a low of 19% in May 2012 before Prop 30. In December 2013, it hit 40% for the first time since 2002. In other words, a really long time. And then in the late March poll, approval was trending even higher, with a 46-40 split in the first few days of polling. Then the Leland Yee story broke, and the numbers fell back to earth.

Slightly more voters believe California is generally on the wrong track (46%) than say it is moving in the right direction (41%). In addition, more voters disapprove (47%) than approve (35%) of the job performance of the state legislature.

Opinions about both matters are directly related to the party registration of voters. Democrats offer a much more optimistic assessment of the direction of the state and hold more positive views of the job the state legislature is doing than Republicans. (Field PDF)

Still, this says a lot about the harmony of the post Prop 30 days. There are still budget fights, but they aren’t nearly as toxic as they once were. The majority vote budget means that the fights are basically all within the party. The scandal can’t help, but beyond a bad apple or two, this is a legislature that works for California.

Field Poll: Governor Up, Legislature Down

Yee arrest shifts legislative numbers

by Brian Leubitz

It turns out having one of your members arrested for involvement in a gun running scandal hurts your approval numbers. Who’d have thunk it?

Following Yee’s arrest, voter sentiment of the legislature has turned negative. The proportion of voters expressing disapproval jumped six points from 40% to 46%, and now is greater than the proportion approving (43%), which declined three points. Thus, voter opinions of the legislature swung a net nine points in the negative direction in the days following news of Yee’s arrest.(Field poll PDF)

Now, that being said, 40% is still relatively strong compared to the dark days of the budget fights a few years ago. In September 2010, approval of the legislature hit a rather abysmal 10%. The majority vote budget and the wiggle room afforded by Prop 30 should probably get most of the credit for that rebound. But the Yee arrest, following the other Senate legal issues, drags that down. Perhaps some of that will be resolved when those members are officially gone from the chamber, but with the Yee story likely to linger in the news, don’t expect an immediate bounce at the end of the year.

Meanwhile, Gov. Brown is riding high. Field has him at an all-time high of 59%, with just 32% disapproving. Those are numbers that will be hard for any competitor to overcome in June or November. But the field of candidates that are actually in the race? The odds grow even longer. Right wing extremist Tim Donnelly leads the pack at 17% with no other candidate exceeding 3%. Neel Kashkari hopes to spend his way to relevance, but time is running quite short.

Reducing Republican Budget Obstruction Made a Big Difference in 2013

Successful legislative year made possible with stable budget, decreased GOP obstruction

by Brian Leubitz

Even if you only judge a legislative session on landmark legislation, 2013 was a banner year. The long awaited immigrant drivers license bill finally came to fruition. The minimum wage increase will make a big difference for large swaths of Californians. The LIFE Act gun safety legislation will help make guns a bit more safe, while continuing the pressure for thorough federal legislation.

You may notice that this year also featured a relatively smooth budget process, and few of the late night negotiation sessions which continually marked the last decade. George Skelton thinks that some of the structural reforms are staring to kick in:

It helped, of course, to be freed from a years-long budget crisis. No longer are the governor and legislators preoccupied with fighting over which public services to whack. Credit past cutting, a recovering economy and Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax increase last year.

But just as important, some recent voter-enacted reforms are starting to take hold. Specifically:

• Looser term limits. Allowed to serve 12 years in one house, new legislators aren’t arriving in the Capitol searching for their next job. They have a greater sense of stability.

Skelton then goes on to point to the redistricting commission and the top two primary system before lauding Gov. Brown’s previous experience as a tool for legislative success. It is hard to argue with any of these, except maybe Top 2. I’m not sure that any of the Dem on Dem races would have really changed all that much on any of these major pieces of legislation. Would Betsy Butler or Michael Allen have voted that differently, or really changed the tenor of the debate? I would submit that Top 2 really doesn’t accomplish all that much except create a whole lot more of campaign spending.

But, on the flip side, it seems apparent that the biggest one really was the redistricting in that it enabled Democrats to capture supermajorities, even if only temporary. It put the Republicans in a mood to work across lines if they cared to get anything major done. There were to be no trailer bills to save their priorities this year, as Prop 30 meant that the state wasn’t seeking new revenue and Prop 25 meant that the Democrats weren’t looking for Republican budget votes.

In a more perfect world, we would have a sane and robust political opposition. But the GOP, statewide and nationally, has opted for a position outside of the mainstream. And for California that means that the state is better off with them in a minority position where they are unable to obstruct the real work needed for Californians.

Questionable Bill Awaits Vote as Deadline Looms for Bills in their House of Origin

Bills must pass out of their house of origin today to stay alive

by Brian Leubitz

It’s Deadline Day!

Among those bills are some pretty controversial ones like AB 26. AB 26 addresses a very real problem in workplace safety issues as well as the modernization of big greenhouse gas emitting facilities. However, there are some serious flaws. A recent analysis from Communities for a Better Environment shows a few flaws:

Proposed Assembly Bill 26 claims to advance climate protection and worker rights, but a provision snuck into this bill after it was proposed would do just the opposite for California’s heaviest industrial polluters-oil refineries.

The provision (§ 39714 (c)) would define refinery maintenance as “public works.” It would give oil companies public money that is supposed to be used for climate protection in places hardest hit by industrial pollution, to keep refineries that do too little to curb their emissions running, and insist that they use contractors instead of the existing refinery workers to do all that maintenance work.

Perhaps something can be changed in the Senate to make the bill more palatable and less of a subsidy to oil companies. After all, Chevron played fast and loose with workplace safety and the integrity of our environment in Richmond. Why are we subsidizing Big Oil to do what they should be doing anyway?

It will be a pretty busy day on the floor of the Assembly, but much of the really tough process of pushing bills is done at the other house. That’s where you will see the big lobbying pushes for and against potential legislation.

What Now?

Legislature reconvenes with some big questions

by Brian Leubitz

I’ve been traveling for a while, but, perhaps my timing was perfect. The 2013 legislative session just reconvened last week, and the issues are still being sorted out.  A few obvious pieces of legislation, such as closing the “impersonating a boyfriend” rape loophole.  Gun control legislation will also be a hot topic, with some sound legislation proposed (such as SB 47, but, of course, the NRA remains dedicated to drifting from their traditional stance to crazy libertarianism.

But, as per usual, the biggest fight remains with the budget.  The Governor’s budgeting forecast shows a stabilization and an elimination of the structural deficit. So, hooray for that I suppose. However, under Prop 98, the education system is still owed billions, which he is looking to repay, plus billions of dollars remain on the state’s credit cards in the form of outstanding bond debt. There is no reason whatsoever to rush to repay any bonds, but the picture is neither as dire as some would paint it, nor as rosy as others would have you believe.

The fact remains that we have slashed social services below functioning levels. And the Governor has said that he has no plans to restore the funding to levels that could actually provide the intended services:

Brown said he is unwilling to restore funding for social service programs that have been cut during the recession. “That kind of yo-yo political economy is not good,” he said. “I want to advance the progressive agenda, but consistent with the amount of money the people made available.”

The spending plan Brown released this morning calls for small increases to education funding in a $97.7 billion general fund budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 but generally holds the line elsewhere.(SacBee)

I get the whole “let’s not go back into debt” thing. It makes perfect sense, but there must be a balance between growth and deficit reduction. As in the rest of the nation, and world, really, job growth is still slow. (Hey, don’t I know it! Anybody need a lawyer/policy analyst/political consultant?)

We need to ensure that the state government doesn’t continue to be one of the 50 Little Hoovers, especially when federal stimulus has pretty much dried up. State government still exists to provide services to its citizens, and a functioning state government, a growing economy must both be balanced against budget stabilization.

Democratic Supermajority Achieved: Let’s Chat Tomorrow

PhotobucketChris Norby concedes tightest Assembly race – photo credit: Chris Prevatt

by Brian Leubitz

With the concession of Chris Norby to Sharon Quirk-Silva, the Democratic supermajority in the Assembly was finalized. The Democrats will hold 54 of the 80 seats there. In the Senate, the situation is slightly more confusing. Senator Juan Vargas was elected to replace Rep. Bob Filner in Congress, so we’re looking at a special election in that Dem-leaning district.

That being said, what does the supermajority mean? Robert had a great take on the situation earlier this week. Tomorrow, I’ll discuss the supermajority on KALW’s Your Call radio. You can listen online here or tune in to 91.7 in San Francisco, or KUSP (88.9) in Santa Cruz.

A Few Bills of Note: Youth Sentencing, regulating slates

With the deadline approaching, the fight is on.

by Brian Leubitz

With the deadline to get bills to the Governor rapidly approaching, there aree a few bills that are worthy of mention. First, a bill allowing judges to consider the rehabilitation of some convicted criminals with life sentences in a new resentencing procedure:

California prison inmates serving life-without-parole sentences for crimes they committed as juveniles would have a chance at freedom under a bill approved Thursday by the Assembly.

The bill, which now heads back to the Senate – where it is expected to pass – was approved in the Assembly with the minimum of 41 votes and no Republican support. It was the third time in as many years that the lower house considered some form of the proposal by state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco.(SF Chron)

You won’t be surprised to learn that there are some really nasty comments on pretty much every article on the mainstream media that is reporting about this. But if we aren’t even going to pretend to rehabilitate, why bother even have non-life sentences. Just put everybody in prison for life and throw away the proverbial key. But, in the end, that is not a practical or just solution. Even for people who commit murders, we need to allow a judge to have some discretion to determine if the person in question has made strides toward rehabiliation and whether we can, years later, consider them for release. It is the humane policy, especially considering that many of these youth were the lookouts for burglaries and other lesser crimes gone wrong.

In another story that is more annoying than life changing, ssome of the statewide slate mailers really suck. They are of very little value to anybody except the  people that make money off of them.  SB 488 would fix at least one of those:

Make no mistake:  It’s no coincidence that the hired gun for the California Organization of Police and Sheriffs (COPS), Kelly Moran, is actively trying to kill a great piece of campaign reform legislation – SB 488.  This bill prohibits the unauthorized use of public safety logos, insignias and other identifiers on political mail pieces.(Labor Fed)

Ok, we have slate mailers, fine, but at the very least, people should be able to understand where they are coming from without a bunch of confusing names like the COPS slate.

Might Republicans Surrender on Taxes Without a Fight?

Top 2 Creates Interesting Scenarios Within Republican Assembly Caucus

by Brian Leubitz

The headline itself sounds like insanity.  But with only a month until candidate filing opens it is looking increasingly like Republicans may realize they have to choose between keeping a few RINO pets or face extinction.

We all know the situation in the Senate, where Republicans are pinning their hopes of keeping Democrats below 2/3rds on a handful of seats along the Central Coast.  They are so worried they have launched an expensive referendum challenge in hopes of getting more favorable lines from the Supreme Court.  Members of their Caucus must think they are in trouble as they resemble rats on the proverbial ship with both Senators Blakeslee and Strickland announcing they will not be running for re-election.

The Assembly is more interesting.  Most analysts believe that Democrats cannot reach two-thirds in that house in 2012.  But looking at the Republican frontrunners they may not have to.  In AD 77 there is Brian Maienschein, a former San Diego City Council member who is well liked by local labor and who the Flashreport had labeled as too moderate to be considered a real Republican.

In AD 61 they have Bill Batey.  Besides being a Moreno Valley City Councilmember, this guy is pro-choice, fine with gay marriage and won’t sign the no-tax pledge.  And yes, he says he is a Republican.

In AD 8 they have Peter Tateishi who is a by-the-book Republican.  But leadership is so worried about his ability to win the seat they have been quietly encouraging local developer Jon Bagetelos to run.  Why quietly?  Because among his moderate credentials, Bagetelos is a major backer of Sacramento’s Democratic mayor Kevin Johnson.  Bagatelos lost an Assembly race once before to a conservative Republican and this time is trying to quietly set himself up before the tea party people figure out who he really is.

Then you can throw sitting Assemblymember Jeff Gorrell in the mix.   The only reason he hasn’t been branded a RINO yet is that he hasn’t had the chance to vote due to an extended military deployment to Afghanistan.  But once he is back and if he has some other moderate voices to give him cover, expect Gorell to go up on votes for taxes, labor, choice and marriage equality.

So unlike the Senate where Republicans are putting up a vigorous fight, if something doesn’t change by the time candidate filing closes Assembly Republicans may simply hand Democrats the two-thirds votes we need to advance our agenda no matter what happens in November.  Where is Republican leader Connie Conway?  Are the conservative members of her Caucus giving her a pass because they would like to remain at least sort-of-relevant?  Or are they asleep at the wheel as she pulls the wool over their eyes?  Given Assembly Republicans penchant for dumping their leaders, I guess we will know soon enough.

A New Year, Anything New?

3 Areas to Watch

by Brian Leubitz

If you care to look, it seems that the Sacramento press corps (all three to five of the hardy souls) have just written either a wrap up of 2011 or a preview of 2012.  You basically get a few points with slightly different order depending on the writer(s), but here are a few points worth noting:

1) Jerry Brown is just Jerry Brown

That isn’t to say he’s any worse than any other governor that we could have ended up with, but that he’s not some super hero who can ride in to save the day.  Even with all of his experience, he can’t magically do Jedi Mind Tricks on the Republicans to somehow be reasonable. I think there was a lot of hope this time last year that Jerry Brown, with all of his experience a generation ago, would be the adult in the room for the bunch of children in the legislature.  But I suppose sometimes the delinquents win.

2) 2012 will be a make or break year for Brown and California generally. Or not.

This is sort of a funny one. Because, really, the same thing has been said about our situation for the last four years or so. Really, ever since the worst of the budget mess began, we have been playing with fire. So, in that sense, yes, every year is really important, but somehow we’ve been able to find some way to make the cuts, cuts, cuts and more cuts into our budget to avoid any real decision-making. Yes, those cuts are a real decision, but more in the passive sense.  We have left the decisions for a few whims of whomever gets the last word at the dais of the respective budget committees, or whomever manages to catch the leaders at an opportune moment.  

They say that budgets are a statement of our priorities. But I hope, for all of our sakes, that isn’t true of the past five years.  Is it really our priority to make the school year shorter? Or to abandon our sick and elderly? Or to cut fire protection services? It is hardly any robust statement of priority when there is a gun at your head.  Our system is so skewed towards one particular priority, taxes, that we have lost all sense of everything else.

Perhaps this is the year that changes that, but from the statements of Sen. Steinberg and Spkr Perez, I wouldn’t expect much from the Legislature. They seem content to wait back for the Novemeber election and to satisfy the budget deficit ($13B-ish) with cuts alone until then.  

“My view is you always have an open door and outstretched hand, but I don’t think we do anything as our main strategy that requires a two-thirds vote,” Steinberg said. “We’re gone down that path far too many times.”(SacBee)

So, perhaps we’ll see a fairly standard legislative year. Maybe something happens with pensions, but more likely, we are in a holding pattern until something is determined at the ballot box with a revenue measure of some sort in November.

3) New Districts and Top 2 Will Bring Changes to Composition of Legislature

At the very least, we will see something new here.  There will, most certainly, be several Dem-on-Dem elections in November. Laura Richardson and Janice Hahn, Howard Berman and Brad Sherman seem destined for some expensive races.  There may be a few Rep-on-Rep, but the numbers and costs will likely be far fewer.  The thing is that there is usually enough Democratic support to get one Dem in a deep Red district top 2, but that isn’t always the case in some of the Bluest seats. Or to flip that, the Deepest Blue is darker than the deepest red.

Now, as to the districts, well, there is still the question of the Senate district referendum.  There is still no word as to whether it will qualify (but expect some sort of word within a few weeks as to whether they will need a full count verification). But, with the signatures out there, the sponsors of the referendum (GOP Senators for the most part) are trying to get some other map more to their liking. The Supreme Court will likely decide on that fairly soon as the SoS needs to prepare for the elections.

There is a very real chance that the Democrats get 2/3 in the Senate (and take away whatever power the Senate GOP caucus had), but it is extremely unlikely that the Assembly Dems are able to do the same. (Cali_girl_in_texas has the over/under at 50).  I’m skeptical that situation would really bring all that much change. Democrats would just be paying more attention to the Assembly. Just a few different, slightly more radical, people in the position of blocking action.

Well, it’s about time to get rolling into a new Legislative year, should be fun!