If you are worried about the drought, growing traffic, the funding at your children’s schools, or a whole host of other issues and you live in Northern California, you should be very worried about upcoming elections in the state legislature for the next Assembly Speaker and Senate President Pro Tempore. For 40 forty years there has been an unspoken – and unbroken – rule that Southern California splits leadership of the legislature with the Bay Area and greater Northern California. This year, Southern California leaders could seize complete control of the state legislature, winning leadership of both the Senate and the Assembly. We respect the importance of Southern California and often work closely with leaders there on key issues, but, for the good of California, we must continue to share leadership.
As a region, therefore, we face an enormous and historic political test. Northern California’s Senators and Assemblymembers should stand up for their districts, their voters, their region, and this historic balance of power, and ensure that either the next as the next leader of the Senate or the Assembly is from this part of the state. Once we lose that position of power, it’s very difficult to get it back.
The Assembly Speaker and the Senate President wield enormous power in California. They appoint – and at a moment’s notice can remove – the leaders and members of legislative committees. They control campaign cash, staffing, office locations and have big influence over the outside players in Sacramento. Indeed, they set the agenda, and most decisions in Sacramento only proceed with their blessing.
With the state preparing emergency measures to get us through what’s shaping up to become one of the most severe droughts in California history, this leadership matters. It matters on how the formulas are written for transportation and education funding, where new research facilities are located, which areas qualify for tax credits, and how the state spends its approximately $200 billion annual budget of the general fund, special funds and federal funds.
Two candidates had emerged from Northern California. Mark DeSaulnier in the Senate, and Richard Gordon in the Assembly. DeSaulnier decided to run for Congress, so Kevin De Leon, an inspiring leader from Los Angeles, has all but been declared the next leader of the Senate. From the Bay Area, Rich Gordon is an exceptionally strong candidate for Assembly Speaker. Gordon, a fourth generation Californian, was born and raised in San Mateo County. He spent some time in Southern California, even working at Disneyland, but has spent most his time in the Bay Area and has been an elected leader for 20 years, including a stint where he was elected by his peers to chair the Sacramento-based California Association of Counties. He is sharp on policy, knows how to wield power and is well-respected and well-liked by his colleagues.
California legislators may view election of their leaders as a “member’s prerogative” that falls outside the purview of broader public input, but in the interest of California as a whole, and the policies and projects that will shape the state in the years to come, we respectfully request that our legislators make sure that our half of California, with its unique characteristics, issues and contributions to the state, maintains its rightful role in the leadership in California.
Jim Wunderman is President and CEO of the Bay Area Council.