IN THIS ISSUE – “If Anyone Can Bridge the Gap, It’s Her”
- New Senate Leader Sets New Tone…And Two Firsts
- State Atty Gen Candidates Spar
- Senate Admonishes Sen. “Huggy Bear”
TRANSPORTATION & TRADE
- Roads Need Fixing, Without Exaggeration
- CA Exports Increase & So Does Trade Uncertainty
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FOR THE WEEK ENDING MARCH 9, 2018
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New Senate Leader Sets New Tone…And Two Firsts
Shortly after her election to the Assembly in 2010, Democrat Toni Atkins of San Diego came to Sacramento for a new lawmakers’ orientation. She’s never forgotten the adage imparted by a veteran lawmaker: “The Republicans are our opponents. But the Senate is our enemy.”
Those words reflect a reality that is entrenched for Capitol insiders, yet almost invisible to the outside world: The two houses of the Legislature are long-standing rivals.
Yes, the Senate and Assembly are both ruled by Democrats. And yes, the two chambers must cooperate to pass any new laws. But that hasn’t stopped a culture of one-upmanship for decades. The result can be substantive—feuding houses kill each other’s bills—or petty—the Assembly and Senate once broke for summer recess on different weeks because their leaders couldn’t even agree on the calendar.
Now Atkins is set to make history as the first person in more than 100 years to lead both houses of the Legislature—something only two other people have done, both during California’s early years of statehood. She was Assembly speaker from 2014 to 2016, and becomes Senate leader on March 21—also becoming the first woman and first openly gay person to lead the upper house.
While no one expects her tenure to erase the Legislature’s deep rivalries, Atkins is well positioned to tamp them down. She’s taking the Senate reins just as changes to term limits have begun to silo legislators in each house. Previously, many lawmakers moved between the Assembly and Senate as their terms expired. Now that they can seek re-election in the same house for up to 12 years, they’re more inclined to stay put.
“If anybody can bridge that gap, it’s her,” said Democratic political consultant Steve Maviglio, who saw the Legislature’s rivalries up close as an aide to former Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez.
“She understands the dynamics of the Assembly… She has years of cat-herding experience… But most importantly, she has a relationship with the Speaker.”
Most recent Senate and Assembly leaders emerged from separate spheres of power, with little prior rapport. But Atkins and current Speaker Anthony Rendon were Assembly colleagues for four years. They worked together closely to craft a $7.5 billion water bond in 2014, an effort that required navigating an array of geographic and political interests to create a bipartisan plan. Along the way, Rendon said he came to appreciate Atkins’ thoughtful style, as well as her love for southern literature and college basketball. When she ran for Senate in 2016, she passed the speakership to him.
“We worked really well together,” Rendon said. “She was someone I leaned on, when I got to Sacramento, for advice and for help.”
The water bond was one of her key accomplishments as speaker during a tenure otherwise plagued by frequent rebellion within her ranks. Atkins couldn’t achieve her own priority in 2015: to fund affordable housing development via a new fee to some real estate transactions (she persisted as a senator and prevailed last year).
In the Assembly, “my focus had to become, ‘What are we trying to get done for the whole body?’ And so I couldn’t spend the time on my housing bill,” she said. “Now maybe I could’ve threatened people, but that’s not my way.”
Atkins also couldn’t persuade her caucus to support a high-profile climate change bill in 2015 backed by Gov. Jerry Brown and Senate leader Kevin de León. SB 350 sought to increase energy efficiency and the use of renewable sources to generate electricity, while slashing California’s oil consumption. Many Assembly Democrats balked at the oil provision.
Atkins had to tell de Leon that the votes weren’t there, igniting a major feud between the two houses. The Assembly passed the bill after the oil piece was removed—an industry win and a ding on de León’s environmental record. Months later, at a charity event where lawmakers publicly roast each other, de Leon lobbed a brutal comeback.
“Did you know that WSPA stands for Western States Petroleum Association?” he said. “And all this time I thought it meant We Specialize in Purchasing Assemblymembers.”
Since then, the progressive Senate has passed several bills that have stalled or been watered down in the more moderate Assembly, including legislation to create a single-payer health care system (which Atkins co-authored), get 100 percent of the state’s electricity from renewable sources, and limit how local law enforcers cooperate with immigration agents.
Rendon said his house grew frustrated with the Senate passing “purely symbolic” bills, and that the Assembly was being “more adult” by amending or putting the brakes on them.
More recently, the two houses struggled to get on the same page in responding to allegations of sexual harassment. After 150 women signed an open letter complaining of pervasive misconduct in the Capitol, the Senate and the Assembly launched separate hearings. Only after criticism from victims did they form a joint panel.
Some Senate-Assembly power struggles have become the stuff of Capitol legend. In the 1980s, Assembly Speaker Willie Brown billed himself as the “Speaker of the Legislature” on a party invitation, prompting an angry rebuke from Senate leader David Roberti.
In the early 2000s, jousting was common between Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez and Senate leader Don Perata. Late one night in 2006, as both houses were working to approve bond measures, Perata tired of waiting for the Assembly to send its bills to the upper house. Suddenly he banged his gavel and ended the session, effectively killing the Assembly’s bills. Nunez was so furious he temporarily banned senators from setting foot on the Assembly floor.
“It shocked a lot of people I would do that,” Perata recalled, “but I’m only going to take so much game playing.”
The friction can worsen in a session’s final days and hours, as each house may delay transmitting bills to the other house as a way to leverage deals.
Will Atkins and Rendon avoid such brinkmanship?
“Hopefully the strength of our relationship and our communication will lessen a lot of that,” Rendon said.
“You get this culture passed on to you,” Atkins said. “But I’m not going to perpetuate this ‘us versus them.’ ”
State Atty Gen Candidates Spar
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has become the face of the state’s resistance to President Donald Trump, challenging the Republican administration’s policies nearly four dozen times in court and providing the kind of meat-and-potatoes opposition that Democratic activists say they want.
Yet, he was eclipsed at last weekend’s state Democratic Party convention by Dave Jones, the comparatively obscure state insurance commissioner who wants Becerra’s job.
Delegates voted 56 percent for Jones and 42 percent for Becerra, though neither candidate received the 60 percent needed for the party’s endorsement and financial support.
Becerra and Jones are the most prominent of 11 candidates who filed statements of intention to run for attorney general. The others include Republicans Steven Bailey, a former state judge, and Eric Early, a Los Angeles attorney. The top two vote-getters in the June primary will advance to the November general election regardless of party.
In separate interviews with The Associated Press, Jones and Becerra sharply criticized each other and parted ways on everything from their qualifications and priorities to whether Becerra has been a leader or a follower as he fights Trump’s agenda.
Jones accused Becerra of “enabling opioid deaths” because his office has not yet fully implemented a statewide drug database, and of failing to seize guns from thousands of felons, those deemed mentally ill and others who are no longer allowed to own firearms.
Becerra repeatedly accused Jones of being deceptive and questioned if Jones would shirk his constitutional duties when it comes to carrying out the death penalty.
Gov. Jerry Brown last year appointed Becerra to a post that often has been a stepping-stone to California’s highest offices: Brown himself previously served as attorney general, and Becerra replaced Kamala Harris after she was elected to the U.S. Senate.
Becerra, 60, served in Congress for nearly a quarter-century, rising to become the highest-ranking Latino. He spent two years in the state Assembly and previously was a deputy state attorney general.
Jones, 56, has twice won statewide office after stints in the Assembly and Sacramento City Council, and for three years was special assistant and counsel to former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno. He got his start providing free legal assistance to the poor.
“It’s almost like the tortoise and the rabbit when you compare them, with Xavier being that very, very hardworking attorney general. He just gets the job done. He’s liberal by any standard, but he’s probably not as liberal as Dave Jones,” said Carlos Alcala, chairman of the state Democratic Party’s Chicano Latino Caucus, which has not endorsed in the race.
Alcala personally supports Becerra but said Jones did a better job preparing for the party convention. Jones’ views are more in line with those of party activists, particularly the Bernie Sanders wing, Alcala said.
The two aren’t far apart on most issues, but Alcala said Jones appeared to more fully embrace universal health care and wants to abolish the death penalty, issues that can be litmus tests for party delegates.
Becerra said he has long supported universal health care. He fears the death-penalty process isn’t foolproof, but both men said they would enforce the state’s capital punishment law despite their misgivings. Becerra compared Jones to Republican U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who he said would “pick and choose which laws he’ll enforce.”
Jones said Becerra hasn’t done enough to combat Trump, opioids, gun violence or corporate polluters.
Becerra trailed other states in challenging Trump’s travel ban on citizens of Muslim-majority nations and his bid to end a program that protects hundreds of thousands of young immigrants from deportation, Jones said. However, it was Becerra’s lawsuit that prevailed in protecting young immigrants, and travel ban challenges have been successful so far, too.
“For anyone to claim that I haven’t been at front and center … you can’t get more deceptive than that,” Becerra said.
Jones also faulted Becerra for failing in a legal challenge to the administration ending billions in consumer health care subsidies, and said he should be challenging Trump’s acceptance of money from foreign officials who stay at Trump’s hotels.
“I’ll do a better job of resisting Trump,” Jones said, “but we can do more than just resist Trump.”
Becerra said he wants to make sure the state’s prescription drug database protects Californians’ medical privacy, and is seeking more money to seize illegal weapons. He laughed at Jones’ assertion that he has seven years’ experience running a law enforcement agency because his department has more than 8,000 insurance fraud arrests.
“How many guns have any of my opponents taken off the streets with their law enforcement operations? How many sex trafficking rings … ? How many embezzlement rings … ? We can go through the list,” he said. “We do far more work on important matters that have nothing to do with Donald Trump.”
University of Southern California political analyst Sherry Bebitch Jeffe said Jones has an uphill battle given what likely will be Becerra’s growing lead in name recognition and campaign fundraising. Becerra raised twice as much as Jones last year and had $3.1 million in his campaign account going into this election year to Jones’ $1.5 million. However, Jones also may be able to use part of the $2.5 million he has left over from a prior race.
Trump, in an unintended consequence, is effectively helping Becerra by allowing him to position himself as the “anti-Trump, the resistance to Trump,” she said.
Senate Admonishes “Huggy Bear”
The California Senate has reprimanded Sen. Bob Hertzberg and told him to stop initiating his trademark hugs after an investigation determined that his behavior made two female legislators and a male sergeant-at-arms uncomfortable.
“You cannot solve the problem by asking someone if a hug is unwelcome or welcome because a person may not feel comfortable telling you it is unwelcome,” the Senate Rules Committee wrote to Hertzberg in a letter released Thursday. “Any further similar behavior will result in the Rules Committee recommending more severe discipline.”
The Senate launched an investigation into Hertzberg, a Los Angeles Democrat, after former Assemblywoman Linda Halderman alleged in mid-December that he pinned her in his arms and thrust his groin into her, describing the encounter in a Capitol hallway shortly after she was elected in 2010 as an assault. Two sitting lawmakers came forward and said Hertzberg’s hugs crossed a line for them, too.
Halderman declined to meet with the lawyers the Senate hired to investigate. They ultimately concluded that Hertzberg likely hugged Halderman on one occasion, but did not substantiate complaints that he hugged her multiple times in an unwanted manner, even after she asked him to stop.
CA Roads Need Fixing, Without Exaggeration
After decades of shameful neglect of California’s vital transportation network, Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature last year enacted a multi-billion-dollar package of new fees and fuel taxes.
It was the right thing to do, and if it merits any criticism, it is that it took too long and may fall short of meeting the needs for repair and rehabilitation of roads, streets, highways and other transportation facilities.
Nevertheless, the California Republican Party is trying to place a repeal measure on the November ballot, hoping to capitalize on polls showing that Californians don’t much cotton to paying higher taxes to drive.
Its real motivation is hoping that opposition to gas taxes will boost turnout of Republicans and anti-tax independents and help the GOP defend several congressional seats that Democrats hope to capture.
The coalition that backs the new transportation financing scheme – Brown, construction contractors and their unions, business interests and local governments, primarily – is worried that the repeal measure will make the ballot and could pass.
Some members of the coalition, therefore, commissioned a study entitled “The Economic Impacts of Senate Bill 1 on California,” referring to the legislative measure that authorized the new taxes.
Not surprisingly, the supposedly objective study found nothing but economic wonderfulness if the transportation funds are collected and spent.
“The transportation investment…will support at least $182.6 billion in increased economic activity and benefits for California residents and businesses over the next 10 years, averaging $18.3 billion per year,” it declares.
“As the investment increases during this period, SB 1 will support an additional 682,029 job-years throughout all sectors of the state’s economy, over the 10 years. This translates to an average of 68,203 jobs each year. A sustained increase in California highway, street, bridge and transit investment will reduce costs for users of the transportation system, provide broad economic benefits to communities across the state and improve the quality of infrastructure.”
One is surprised that the author of the study, an economist for the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, didn’t also claim that it would cure psoriasis and bring world peace.
Collecting more money from motorists and spending it on transportation improvements is the right thing to do because it needs to be done. Ginning up an overblown, self-serving economic “analysis” undermines the integrity of the act.
It’s on a par with the phony “studies” of economic benefit that cheerleaders for sports arenas, the bullet train and other big ticket public works projects wave around in hopes of generating more public support.
Two points about the new transportation study demonstrate its dubious validity.
The first is that the numbers cited sound great, but in fact are pretty small potatoes, even if true.
An additional $18.3 billion in economic activity and 68,203 jobs each year are minuscule in relationship to a $2.6 trillion economy and 15-plus million jobs in that economy; much less than 1 percent gains.
The second point is that those gains are probably illusionary since they, like those cited in other such reports, ignore the economic flip side.
The transportation program will take $5-plus billion out of the pockets of motorists each year. That’s money that won’t be spent on groceries, housing, utilities, new cars and other forms of consumer spending, so any honest economic impact study would take those lesser expenditures into account and probably show more or less a net wash.
Again, taxing motorists and spending the money on transportation improvements is the right thing to do. Claiming overblown economic benefits is the wrong thing to do.
CA Exports Increase & So Does Trade Uncertainty
California’s merchandise export trade rose in January, according to a Beacon Economics’ analysis of U.S. trade statistics released this morning by the U.S. Census Bureau. Foreign shipments by California businesses totaled $13.70 billion for the month, a nominal 3.2% gain over the $13.27 billion recorded one year earlier.
The state’s exports of manufactured goods in January slipped by 2.4% to $8.43 billion from $8.64 billion one year earlier. However, exports of non-manufactured goods (chiefly agricultural products and raw materials) increased by 8.3% to $1.72 billion from $1.59 billion. Re-exports, meanwhile, surged by 16.6% to $3.55 billion from $3.04 billion.
“Januarys are historically cursed by hang-overs in more ways than one,” said Jock O’Connell, Beacon Economics’ International Trade Adviser. “Trade volumes tend to wilt between December’s holidays and the Asian New Year. Still, a dollar that was 7.7% weaker than at the start of 2017 coupled with solid demand for California specialty crops helped buoy January’s export trade.” Almond exports, for example, were up over 20% from January 2017.
“Looking beyond the sizable gains reflected in this month’s numbers, the larger story is the latest announcement by the Trump administration regarding trade barriers, in this case tariffs on steel and aluminum,” said Robert Kleinhenz, Economist and Executive Director of Research at Beacon Economics. “This measure and other measures to ‘level the playing field’ both heighten uncertainty about U.S. trade policy and have a chilling effect at a time when foreign trade has the greatest upside potential in years as a result of strength in both the U.S. economy and the economies of its trading partners.”
California accounted for 10.9% of the nation’s overall merchandise export trade in January.