May 12, 2014
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.
You may notice something different in this space this week. After years of columnizing, our friend Greg Lucas landed himself a fancy gubernatorial appointment as the next state librarian. Greg is a seasoned Capitol hand, a former bureau chief for the San Francisco Chronicle and one of the keenest observers of state politics.
So who the heck am I? Like Greg, I’m a former Capitol reporter. I’ve been covering state politics since 1997, most recently for the Los Angeles Times, where I covered Gov. Jerry Brown. I’m a closet policy wonk and really care deeply about our state. I realize I have a big earring to fill with Greg’s departure, but I’m looking forward to continuing to share my thoughts and observations, and hopefully offer some insights into the goings on under the dome.
There will be an official passing of the torch today as Toni Atkins takes over the Assembly Speaker’s gavel from John A. Perez. Atkins is a coal miner’s daughter who grew up in poverty in rural Virginia. That experience is likely to shape her speakership, where she says she will focus on policies that help those in need. George Skelton had a nice profile of her, which you can read here.
She will also be the last of her kind. First elected to the Assembly in 2010, Atkins is under the old term-limits rules, which allow just six years in the Assembly and eight years in the state Senate. Those elected in 2012 or later are under the new rules, the so-called Proposition 28 babies. Under the new rules, members can serve 12 years total in the Legislature in either house.
That means Atkins will be forced from office in 2016. It also means there is already plenty of jockeying over who will be the next speaker, even before the new speaker takes over. The next speaker will be allowed to serve until at least 2024, creating the possibility of an eight-year speakership – something the Capitol hasn’t seen since the 15-year reign of Willie Brown.
Turnover in the Capitol
Senate leader Darrell Steinberg will also be forced from his office by term limits this year. But it’s not just the elected leadership of the houses that’s changing. Two longtime Capitol stalwarts, Jon Waldie and Tony Beard, have given up their longtime jobs as senior officers in the Capitol.
Waldie, the son of former Assemblyman Jerome Waldie, has been the chief administrative officer of the Assembly Rules Committee since the mid-1990s. Amid the turnover of term limits, Waldie was a steadying force on the people’s house. He kept the back of the store running smoothly, for the most part. As a reporter, I used to take some measure of sympathy on Waldie, who was always handed the proverbial flack jacket whenever reporters called over issues about pay for some Capitol staffer, or a decision to move a speaker’s political opponent to an office in political Siberia, or any number of minor incidents of political scandal or intrigue.
In the other house, Tony Beard has given up his badge as head sergeant-at-arms of the Senate – a job he held since 1979, and one his father held before that. Beard has been a familiar face in recent months, manning the doors amid FBI raids in the Capitol. But as the chief law enforcement officer in the Senate, he’s been much more than that, and has seen his share of drama – like the time someone deliberately drove their delivery truck into the side of the Capitol building while the legislature was in session.
Beard is also one of the great Capitol storytellers, and is privy to plenty of good ones. He shared a few with Greg Lucas – like overseeing the building of the first women’s restroom in the state Senate – during a 2012 session of Politics on Tap. You can find the video here.
Waldie’s replacement will be longtime staffer Debra Gravert. Beard’s top deputy, Katrina Rodriguez, will take over on an interim basis for her former boss, bringing some gender balance to the Capitol’s top jobs, most of which have historically been dominated by men.
Election 2014 Is Underway
Polling stations aren’t open until June 3, but the state’s primary election is well underway. There’s no such thing as Election Day anymore in California. It’s now election month, with about half of the state’s voters registered as permanent absentee voters. Those mail-in ballots started going out earlier this month, with 100 legislative seats and all statewide constitutional offices up for grabs.
This will be the first election of constitutional officers under new state primary rules, which allow the top two primary vote-getters to advance to the November run-off. Under the old rules, the top vote-getter in each party advanced to the fall election.
Two legislative races are being particularly closely watched by the California Medical Association (CMA). In Sacramento, CMA-supported Assemblyman Richard Pan, M.D., is running for Steinberg’s senate seat against fellow Democratic Assemblyman Roger Dickinson.
In the Los Angeles beach cities area, Ted Lieu’s decision to run for Congress has set off a fierce battle with a crowded field that includes Democrats Vito Imbasciani, M.D., and former Assemblywoman Betsy Butler.
CMA is backing Dr. Imbasciani, a surgeon for the California Army National Guard. He served as an officer of the U.S. Army Medical Corps and is a veteran of two wars, with active-duty tours in Desert Storm and Iraq. Butler, a former fundraiser for the trial lawyers’ PAC, is attempting to make her Sacramento comeback after losing her Assembly seat to Democrat Richard Bloom.
Among the other hot races to watch is the East Bay battle between former Jerry Brown campaign manager and Orinda City Councilman Steve Glazer and Tim Sbranti, the mayor of Dublin and a former head of the California Teachers Association PAC. Labor is coming in hard for Sbranti, while realtors and other business groups are leading the charge for Glazer. Spending in the race between the two Democrats is already approaching $2 million – making it the most expensive race of the season.
While the primary is well underway, the deadline is fast approaching for initiatives to be submitted for the November ballot. Health care is likely to dominate the discussion, with the trial lawyers’ MICRA initiative and another measure that would regulate hospital rates headed for the ballot. But hospitals avoided a major showdown with health care unions, striking a deal that led the unions to abandon a pair of ballot measures that would have capped CEO pay and placed price controls on hospitals.