Reforms Loosen Grip of Legislative Leaders

Sherry Bebitch Jeffe & Doug Jeffe
Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, Professor of the Practice of Public Policy Communication, Sol Price School of Public Policy and Doug Jeffe, Communications and Public Affairs Strategist

After California’s stringent term limits were enacted in 1990, the legislative power equation in Sacramento shifted noticeably. For nearly a quarter of a century, clout has been concentrated in the offices of the Senate President pro Tempore and the Speaker of the Assembly.  Individual members have been generally expected to toe the line.  However, this year’s legislative session may be a sign that the concentration of power has been diluted somewhat and that the voices of individual legislators may be becoming relevant again.

Since former Speakers Jesse Unruh and Willie Brown laid out the ground rules, contributions from business, labor, trial lawyers, medical groups and Indian gaming tribes have largely flowed into leadership campaign funds that are doled out by Senate and Assembly leaders, who have also steered interest groups to support their favored candidates.    Candidates seeking first-term seats, nervous incumbents up for reelection and legislators looking to jump to another office have always needed to play nice with the legislative leaders, who also controlled committee assignments, staff and office space.  The 1990 term limits law created a game of political musical chairs, where officeholders constantly jumped from one office to another—an expensive proposition, escalating the demands of many lawmakers hungry for the political money controlled by the legislative leaders. 

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Making Hiring Harder

Loren Kaye
President of the California Foundation for Commerce and Education

The California Legislature would be more credible about its concern for job growth if it didn’t make it so hard for employers to hire workers.

Job growth starts with an employer making an offer to an applicant. Thankfully, aggregate demand and certain competitive advantages in parts of California have strengthened our job base. But in many parts of the state, in many industries, and on the margin, additional burdens on employers make it just that much harder to justify an additional hire.

For example, a bill on the Governor’s desk would prohibit private employers from inquiring about a prospect’s salary history. (And no – public employers would not be so constrained.) This measure invents a problem: that employers use salary history to perpetuate embedded sex discrimination, ignoring that current law already prohibits use of salary history as the sole determinant in hiring. 

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Oakland, Uber and Our Urban Economies Today

Michael Bernick
Former California Employment Development Department Director and author, The Autism Job Club (2015, with R. Holden)

uberoaklandSince Uber announced its downtown Oakland headquarters last Wednesday, a good deal of handwringing has followed about gentrification and threats to “Oakland values” and “Oakland’s soul”. So it is worth saying a few things about how tech firms in the past few years have been impacting urban form and urban economies in California.

At the start, let us note that even before the Uber announcement, Oakland has been developing a vibrant economy of internet commerce/social media firms. Susan Mernit of Live Work Oakland estimated in early 2014 more than 300 tech startups in Oakland, and the number has grown steadily since. Workplace incubators and accelerators either focused on tech or including tech entrepreneurs are multiplying: Impact Hub, 101 Broadway, The Port, Fruitvale Transit Village/Transmosis. Job training agencies specializing in tech training, especially for under-represented groups, are active, including the nationally-known Kapor Center (Freada Kapor Klein and Mitch Kapor) and Black Girls Code.

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The Justice Kennedy — (Speaker?) McCarthy Connection

Joel Fox
Editor of Fox & Hounds and President of the Small Business Action Committee


The unexpected vote by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy on the Arizona redistricting case earlier this year may mean a much longer stint as Speaker of the House for Bakersfield’s Kevin McCarthy–should he get the job.

Recall the case from Arizona in which the state legislature challenged the state’s independent redistricting commission arguing that the United States Constitution only permits state legislatures to determine, “The Times, Places, and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives?”

If the court sided with the Arizona legislature every onlooker believed that California’s independent redistricting commission would be invalidated with the job of drawing congressional districts going back to the state’s legislature.

If that scenario played out a number of observers thought that mischievous Democrats, who would draw up new district lines, might endanger Kevin McCarthy’s congressional seat.

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Why So Little on Water?

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

California is begging for more action, and imaginative investment in water.

Meanwhile the legislature took action at the end of its session on water, by passing… a call for Gov. Brown to call a special legislative session on the subject.

It was profoundly weird to see the end of the legislative session so focused on how much gas we might all use in 2050, when so much needs to be done to address today’s poverty and water shortage.

Also striking was all the attention to finding ways to raise fees and taxes to pay for roads and MediCal—and the lack of attention to the question of how to pay for the major redesign of state water infrastructure we need.

That’s particularly striking when you see polling, including a poll released earlier this summer by the California Water Foundation, showing that Californians are all but begging to pay more to do big, ambitious things on water.

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Fracking Hysteria and People Who Take Selfies with Bears

Eric Eisenhammer
Founder of the Coalition of Energy Users, a nonprofit grassroots organization for access to affordable energy and quality jobs

Recent reports have revealed Colorado authorities had to shut down a park because so many people were taking selfies with the bears.

Needless to say, while they may be cute, bears are dangerous wild animals who sometimes enjoy eating human beings for dinner. It’s hard not to wonder whether the selfie-takers are unaware that real bears are different than cartoon bears.

Perhaps the basic problem is that they are thinking on an emotional basis (“Oooh look at the cute bear!”) instead of a rational basis that takes into account objective facts.

The tendency to think emotionally has become increasingly pervasive in our society. Take the hysteria over hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” for example. Despite the fact that this oil extraction technology has been safely in use for over 60 years in over 1 million wells and that the EPA’s most comprehensive study to date found fracking to be safe, there are still those who spread panic with baseless accusations.

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Chinese Firm Plans L.A.-to-Vegas Train

James Poulos
Staff Columnist, Orange County Register

For bemused Californians, there’s another bullet train in town, thanks to the Chinese government.

More specifically, credit — $100 million worth — goes to China Railway International USA, a venture spearheaded by Beijing’s national railroad, China Railway. The consortium has ponied up funds for XpressWest, “the transportation arm of Marnell Companies, a gaming resort development firm,” as the Sacramento Business Journalnoted.

Formerly known as DesertXpress, the company has labored to send a high-speed track toward Las Vegas since “at least 2007,” reported the Los Angeles Times.

According to Chinese officials cited by the Times, passengers would travel “a 230-mile route with an additional stop in Palmdale and eventual service throughout the Los Angeles area using some of the same track that would be used by the publicly backed California high-speed rail project.” Past plans envisioned a run of 185 miles alongside I-15.

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Gov. Brown Should Sign AB -159, The “Right To Try” Bill

Jeff Stone and Ian Calderon
Senator Jeff Stone represents the 28th Senate District. Assemblyman Ian Calderon represents the 57th Assembly District.

David Huntley was the picture of health. A San Diego State University professor and a triathlete, he never expected to face a disease that would stop him in his tracks in his 60s. But that’s what ALS does. It comes on fast and there’s no way to stop it.

We met David and his wife Linda earlier this year when they came to Sacramento to support a bill we had sponsored, AB-159 the California Right To Try Act.

Right To Try allows doctors to prescribe to terminally ill patients medicines being used safely in clinical trials. The goal of this legislation is to get promising new medications into the hands of people who have exhausted all their options and need one more chance to try to save or extend their life.

David was already wheel-chair bound and had to use a machine to talk, but his testimony was extremely powerful and helped lead to the passage of this bill in both the State Assembly and State Senate with overwhelming bipartisan support.

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Statement on Resignation of Speaker Boehner

Congressman Kevin McCarthy
Majority Leader, United States Congress

(Editor’s note: California’s Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield, the Congressional Majority Leader, is considered a leading candidate to become the next Speaker of the U. S. House of Representatives. If he becomes speaker he will be the second Speaker of the House from California in the last decade following Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco who served as Speaker from 2007 to 2011.)

Since I first came to Congress in 2007, John has been serving his constituents and his country with unparalleled passion. John has been a leader, mentor, and most of all friend throughout, and I learned not only from his experience but also from his unshakeable faith and principles. It takes profound humility to step down from a position of power, and John’s depth of character is unmatched.

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The Voters’ Right to Know Initiative is a Poison Pill for the Political Process

Charles H. Bell, Jr.
A leading California election lawyer and Senior Partner of Bell, McAndrews & Hiltachk, LLP, Sacramento

Last week, several well-known campaign reform activists, supported by funding from another Silicon Valley billionaire, filed a new campaign finance reform initiative they dubbed “The Voters’ Right to Know Act.” A closer look at the measure reveals that it contains a few standard political reform bromides and provisions recently considered by the Legislature, one of which went all the way to Governor Brown who vetoed it.  But, it does much more than that.  The proposed measure would amend the California Constitution’s “First Amendment,” as the Washington Post’s Matea Gold observed, to “enshrine in the State Constitution the right to campaign finance disclosure — making California the first state to put it on par with the rights to speech and privacy, among other fundamental guarantees.”

What is sure from this is that the “Voters’ Right to Know Act” is likely to lead to greater suppression of political speech and restrictions on the public’s right of initiative and to petition government – another part of the constitutional change not mentioned in Gold’s article. The real goal of the measure, as Gold’s article ascribes to former FPPC Chair Ann Ravel, is “to create a new legal framework to support a host of [new] campaign finance rules.” [Note: Ravel is neither an architect nor a supporter of the proposed initiative.]

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