October 13, 2014
Area(s) of Interest: Licensing & Regulatory Issues MICRA
CMA Capitol Insight is a biweekly column by veteran journalist Anthony York, reporting on the inner workings of the state Legislature.
Rules of the Road
The jury is still out about how California’s new election rules have changed the ideology of the legislature. Voters changed the rules in 2010, not only creating independently drawn legislative districts instead of seats designed by legislators themselves, but by changing the primary system so that the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, advance to the fall runoff.
From 2000-2010, the old rules virtually eliminated electoral competition. Seats were designed to be either safe Democratic or safe Republican seats, and even California’s rapidly changing demographics did little to alter that basic architecture throughout the decade. And since, under the old rules the top vote getter of each party advanced to the runoff, the primaries essentially decided the eventual winner. The winner of a Democratic primary in a San Francisco would have a cakewalk in November, as would a Republican primary winner in Ranch Cucamonga.
The idea was that this would bring more competition and more political moderates to Sacramento. Again, the jury is out on that. But what is undeniable is that the new rules have changed the way candidates run elections.
Take the race for a Sacramento state senate seat being vacated by Senate leader Darrell Steinberg. The race pits two Democratic Assemblymen – Roger Dickinson and Dr. Richard Pan – against each other. Both are popular in their districts. Both are well known. And both were among the top vote getters in June, advancing to a head-to-head matchup this November.
Dickinson has run a traditional Democratic campaign, with strong labor union backing and support from other activist groups. Dr. Pan has his own cadre of Democratic supporters, but has also reached out across party lines and to more moderate political groups. Dr. Pan, for example, has the strong support of the California Medical Association as one of the only doctors in the legislature.
But since all voters, and not just Democrats, are going to decide the eventual winner, Dr. Pan’s campaign is reaching out into places where most Democrats typically dare not tread.
This week, Sacramento voters received a mailer from the National Tax-Limitation Committee, a conservative anti-tax group headed by activist Lew Uhler.
The mailer includes endorsements of Republican Ashley Swearengin for state controller, and urges no votes on Proposition 45, a position shared by health insurance providers, and Proposition 47, a measure that would reduce criminal penalties for thousands of inmates.
The slate mailer also urges voters to support Dr. Pan in the 6th Senate District.
This is a byproduct of the new California campaigns. Slate mailers don’t endorse out of the goodness of their heart. Spots on those mailers are purchased by campaigns.
Dr. Pan’s inclusion on the Lew Uhler slate is a sign that his campaign is actively reaching out to more conservative voters, hoping to leverage his more moderate, business-friendly approach to governing into election victory in November.
The eventual outcome will have little impact on the day-to-day operations of the house. While Pan and Dickinson do disagree on some key issues, the major discussion in 2016 is likely to be over budget and taxes.
With Proposition 30 set to expire in the coming years, the race is on for a new tax plan to replace the higher upper income and sales taxes approved by voters in 2012. The 2016 ballot could be pivotal in that discussion, with voters being asked to weigh in on a state revenue plan to replace Proposition 30.
Much of that discussion will begin in the Legislature, and it will be shaped in large part by Democrats. But in order to place anything on the ballot in 2016 through the legislative process, Democrats will have to hold on to their 2/3 majority in both houses – an effort that is very much in doubt just a couple of weeks before election day. A tough Orange County senate race could decide whether the Democrats hold the supermajority, and an Orange County Assembly race, where incumbent Democrat Sharon Quirk Silva is running against Republican Young Kim, may decide the balance of power in that house.
As the clock ticks down to election day, California newspapers continue to roll out their electoral endorsements. Thus far, every editorial board that has taken a position on Proposition 46 has recommended (rather vehemently, in some cases) a no vote. Even the typically trial lawyer friendly Los Angeles Times argued that the “methods the measure would use to achieve (its goals) are too flawed to be enacted into Law.” With that powerful statement, the Los Angeles Times joined the Orange County Register, Santa Rosa Press Democrat, Sacramento Bee, San Jose Mercury Tribune, San Diego Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle and Los Angeles Daily News in opposing Prop. 46.