CMA Capitol Insight: April 11, 2016

April 12, 2016
Area(s) of Interest: Advocacy 

CMA Capitol Insight is a biweekly column by veteran journalist Anthony York, reporting on the inner workings of the state Legislature.

A Higher Wage (and Higher Tobacco Tax?)

Gov. Jerry Brown continued to make history when he signed a $15/hour minimum wage into law. The governor, whose administration had publicly opposed calls for a higher wage, couched the increase in moral terms at a Los Angeles signing ceremony. What’s notable is that the higher wage will take effect statewide. Others had thought that more economically depressed areas of the state might only have to absorb a $13 wage. But by 2023, the entire state will be under the $15 rule, and future increases will automatically be pegged to the rate of inflation.

While the move could send ripples through national politics, with wages emerging as a big issue on the presidential campaign trail, it’s also notable for the impact it will have in California.

The passage of the minimum wage bill means that labor groups will withdraw their ballot measure proposals seeking wage hikes. One of the minimum wage initiative’s main backers, SEIU, is also a major backer of the tobacco tax measure, which is heading toward the fall ballot in partnership with the California Medical Association.

Without a wage initiative on the ballot, more labor resources are available for the tobacco tax proposal, which is certain to face a multi-million dollar opposition campaign from tobacco companies.

A Major Victory

 The California Medical Association won a major victory in Fresno last week when Dr. Joaquin Arambula received more than 50 percent of the vote in a special election to fill the seat vacated by Henry Perea, who resigned his seat in December to take a job with the pharmaceutical industry.

Arambula’s victory allows him to avoid a run-off and immediately begin serving out the rest of Perea’s term. But Arambula will be on the ballot again in June, and in November, as he asks voters to send him to Sacramento for a full two-year term.

Given the fact that 2016 is a presidential election year, and Democratic turnout is expected to be high, Arambula’s chances of reelection this fall are strong. For Republicans, who were hoping to possibly pick up a Central Valley seat in an off-year election, the way they did with Andy Vidak in the southern part of the Valley in2013, the election means the likely end of their election hopes for that seat.

Intra-Party Tensions Rising

 Arambula was elected with the strong backing of CMA. And while his victory was important for Democrats, expect there to be some tension over future votes, as the rift between the liberal and more moderate wings of the party continues to evolve and intensify. Arambula will likely be a more moderate voice within the Assembly Democratic Caucus (like many of his Central Valley colleagues), and we’ve seen tensions between moderates and other wings of the party rise.

First, it was environmental groups who targeted Democrats who refused to vote for restrictions on state oil use in last year’s SB 350. Now, we see organized labor flexing its muscle against Democrats who did not support a higher minimum wage.

Earlier this month, the California Labor Federation announced its 2016 candidate endorsements. What was notable was who was not on the list: a handful of incumbent Democratic legislators, all seen as business friendly (Adam Gray, Rudy Salas, Cheryl Brown, and Tom Daly).

This is the latest chapter in the growing public rift between the business and labor wings of the Democratic Party. It makes sense that in a state that is increasingly run by one party, the Democrats, those intra-Democratic fights would become more profound and more severe.

Part of the tension may also be connected to the new term limits laws, which will allow members to stay in office longer. With incumbents more entrenched, interest groups may go back to their old, pre-term limit ways, where individual races became proxy fights for control of the caucus. Throughout the late 1970s, speakership battles between Democrats Leo McCarthy, Howard Berman and Willie Brown were fought at the ballot box, with rival Democratic factions supporting different Democratic candidates. Victory meant locking up a speakership vote for one candidate or another, and these expensive ballot-box fights played out over multiple election cycles.

That subsided with the passage of term limits in 1990. The constant churn essentially eliminated those proxy wars, and left incumbents with a mostly free path in primary fights. 

Now that members can serve for 12 years in one house, we’ll have to wait and see whether the fights between factions comes back to the ballot box, as interest groups turn their political focus inward. 


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