Sunday, September 18, 2011


California Governor Jerry Brown this last week expressed his frustration with the failure to get Republican votes for his reform bill that would have resulted in higher taxes on corporations based outside of California while providing some breaks for small businesses.  The Governor asserted that California's Republican legislators had unconstitutionally delegated their authority to the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

While pithy, it is doubtful that the Governor's assertion would hold up under the constitutional prohibition on delegating powers.  Still, he makes a point.

Given the current state of California's government and the Republican Party, it is not surprising that many Republican legislators seem to have gone on automatic pilot or have just given the steering wheel to the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association or Grover Norquist.  If either of those two say no, or if a proposal has the word "taxes" in it, or if a caucus consultant has put a "Triple Star Oppose" on their analysis, that's the beginning and end of the discussion. 

To be fair and balanced, it should be noted that legislative Democrats, with rare exceptions, also seem to be virtually robotic when it comes tocertain groups.  If the California Teachers Association or the Service Employees International Union are for or against a piece of legislation, you don't have to be a prophet to know how the Democrats will vote. 

A rare exception was the recent vote to allow non-medical school personnel, with proper training, to give shots to kids with epilepsy who are having a seizure.  The CTA was opposed but the Legislature  put the bill on the Governor's desk anyway.  Notable because it happens so rarely.

And, of course, both parties are virtually 100% predictable if Indian tribes with casinos are for or against a bill.  No one can complain about partisan fighting when the tribes that have money weigh in on an issue.  Legislators just seem to be naturally sympathetic to those Indians regardless of party or the issue. 

When I first started lobbying in 1980, and for a good number of years thereafter, there was a fairly standard method to how one made his or her "pitch."  You told the legislator why your position was the best thing since sliced bread.

Then you told the legislator what the criticisms of your position might be, and you attempted to counter those negatives.  Then you told the legislator what the position of some of the major groups, such as labor unions, trial lawyers, members of the business community, the environmental community, and the doctors, were on the bill. 

Few were naive enough to think that politics and the positions of various interests did not factor into a legislator's thinking.  There is nothing wrong with that.  Who supports and who opposes a bill can give someone an idea regarding the credibility of an argument.  That information can give a legislator insight into where his ideological leanings would probably have him come down.

 Moreover, it is natural to consider whether the bill will help or hurt those that a legislator might feel are important to the state, his or her district, and his or her career.  Only the purest of the pure, and they really have no business being in politics, consider it improper for a legislator to give some consideration to how a bill might impact those who have been supportive of and aligned with the legislator. So, who took what position on a bill was always a factor, and justifiably so.

In more recent years, however, who is for and against a bill has often become the first, second, third, and only consideration for many legislators of both parties.  With Republicans, if the Chamber of Commerce, or a gun rights group, or the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, or the Indian tribes with casinos, were on one side of the bill, that was the end of the story. 

 And, if the public employee labor unions and most particularly the California Teachers Association, or the tribes with casinos, were on one side or another, end of arguments with the Democrats.  No need to discuss the merits.

 I used to sometimes ask myself why some legislators bothered to come to Sacramento if they were simply giving up any independent judgment to a particular group. If someone wasn't going to think, but just react automatically, who needed them? Why not just send robots to Sacramento?


This habit of auto-response is just one aspect of the larger dysfunctionality, bitter partisanship, and stalemate that characterizes California's Legislature.  For my take on the road to super-minority status that the California Republican Party has taken and how the the national party might be emulating it, see The Republicans--Saw This Movie Before.  For a read on California's depressing budget process,
see From A Distance.  And for how California's dysfunctional government stacks up against another that is often thought to be held hostage by small but well-positioned groups, see Comparative Dysfunctionality.

1 comment:

  1. Legislative reeps regularly oppose hjta. The amazon bill is the latest major example. The water bond is another. I could point you to at least a dozen this session. Conventional wisdom and the Gov. have this one all wrong.