Forget all the talk of Neel Kashkari vs. Tim Donnelly and the fight for the soul of the GOP. The more interesting, and arguably more important, political battle in California is the one for the future of the Democratic Party.
This week, California billionaire Tom Steyer promised to pump millions into Democratic contests to push his strong environmental message. Meanwhile, business groups and moderate Democrats are pouring millions of their own into legislative races in California, seeking to elect Democrats who are more inclined to embrace a jobs-first approach to governing.
The skirmishes start now, but will come to a head in 2016 as the state faces the possibility of a fracking moratorium and oil severance tax on the November ballot, and again in 2018 in the state’s gubernatorial contest.
The environment vs. jobs debate is no longer just a struggle between Democrats and Republicans. In solidly blue California, it is now a Democrat vs. Democrat discussion.
Signs of climate change continue to manifest, while well-paying manufacturing jobs are replaced by lower-wage service sector jobs. As unemployment remains in double digits among Latinos and African-Americans, drought, fires and rising sea levels continue to change California. Neither trend is sustainable, and at least in the short term, solutions for the two seem to be in conflict.
This is a discussion Democrats need to start having amongst themselves.
The green economy cannot immediately replace the jobs of the old economy. Sixty jobs from an electric bus maker in Lancaster does not equal 3,000 Toyota jobs in Torrance. California Democrats must have an honest discussion with themselves about why electric car manufacturer Tesla, a darling of the environmental movement and a company that has taken advantage of millions in state green tax credits, is looking outside California to build its massive new battery plant.
The state is suffering through two unsustainable trends simultaneously.. Poverty rates are higher than ever, with 11 million people expected to be on MediCal by the end of next year. Meanwhile, the impact of climate change is being felt now more than ever as farmers and firefighters alike wrestle with the impacts.
Brown is one of the few pols that has been able to straddle that political line – sounding the alarm as loudly as anyone in the nation on climate change, while refusing to support a fracking moratorium and apparently intervening to keep oil flowing in Carson. Other Democrats are being pressed to choose a side.
The issue is not just about oil, it’s more fundamental and bigger than any one industry. It’s about California’s economic and environmental future, and how to take steps to secure both simultaneously.
It will take strong leadership, and a deft political hand, to navigate between the two.