After a few years at the state Capitol, it became clear to me that Republicans, who philosophically see more eye-to-eye with those of us supporting free enterprise over more government, were not in my lifetime ever going to gain control of two let alone one house of the Legislature.  It just wasn’t going to happen.

Back then, some forward-thinking lawmakers were thinking the same thing.  That’s when Dennis Cardoza and Bob Hertzberg thought up the idea of creating a so-called “moderate” wing of the ever-controlling Democrat party.  Frankly, the term “moderate” scared some of us a bit.  That’s because a moderate – Democrat or Republican – is little hard to pin down.  It was said about moderates – and we worried about this – that their philosophies are just ‘blowin’ in the (political) wind.”

But, Cardoza and Hertzberg used as the centerpiece of their organizing principle the future prosperity of California – with more problem-solving by the private sector as opposed to government – and so fellow private-enterprise lobbyists began to take them more seriously.  Moreover, they went out and hired David Townsend, a first-class lobbyist, and to do in-depth policy work Chris Tapio, a former campaign aid.

Savvy lawmakers, smelling the campaign contributions that the welcoming California-business lobby could generate, signed up immediately and two things happened:  1) membership to the new Moderate club swelled; and 2) the votes were all over the place – hardly resembling the group’s organizing principle.  But, just like anything new, the Moderate Caucus, as it was officially called then, had its initial ups and downs.  Today “The New Democrats” are a solid voting coalition inside the larger, otherwise hapless Democrat party.

Now, the U.S. House of Representatives wants in on the act.  After the formation of a fairly pro-business and reliable “Blue Dog Democrat” organization, moderates in Congress have a new group:  the New Democrat Coalition.  They are:

“. . . 68 forward-thinking Democrats who are committed to pro-economic growth, pro-innovation and fiscally responsible policies. New Democrats are a solutions-oriented coalition seeking to bridge the gap between left and right by challenging outmoded partisan approaches to governing.”

The group has just released a white paper seeking to find a solution to chronic problems facing the nation’s housing industry.  The report, “Missing Millions of Homes”, has a clear goal:  The “need to build millions of ‘more housing units’.”

The report dances around some issues, like scarcity of capital, shifts in housing demand and the price of lumber as causes for the country’s shortage of construction.  But, the report rightly focuses on labor shortages, inefficient affordable-housing strategies and, importantly, the increasing role of NIMBYs (not-in-my-backyard) in opposing neighborhood projects – particularly multi-family developments – and the use of environmental regulations to accomplish those ends.

The group goes on to pledge policies and legislation that will build much more housing.  Saying it’s “critically important to America’s economy and America’s families” to overcome significant obstacles in the way – not the least of which is the current fragmentation of power – they promise to deliver.

Now that federal lawmakers have taken up the issue of making new home construction more possible in the nation, what will the new Democrats of California do about their state’s miserable housing condition?

Will they summon the courage needed to repeal the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA); or adopt meaningful zoning and land-use laws; or stand up against rent control and inclusionary zoning; or finally put a reasonable cap on housing fees; or vote to restore redevelopment?

Or, as the party bosses direct, will they continue to vote for meaningless, benign new housing laws – labeled as solutions?  Or, worse – look the other way when outright hostile legislation is proposed?

Says the new group in Congress:

New Democrats believe the challenges ahead are too great for Members of Congress to refuse to cooperate purely out of partisanship.

Sounds about right.