Roger Dickinson takes on tobacco interests, term limits

08/08/2014 8:30 PM

08/09/2014 10:26 AM

From water politics to the contours of his Senate race against Assemblyman Richard Pan to the wisdom of term limits, Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, had plenty to talk about when he visited The Sacramento Bee’s Capitol Bureau on Friday. Here are some excerpts from the conversation:

You introduced a bill earlier this year intended to curb youth tobacco use, in particular electronic cigarettes ... That bill didn’t make it. Sen. (Ellen) Corbett’s bill to limit the sale of e-cigarettes in vending machines didn’t make it. Why is this industry, this growing industry, proving so difficult to regulate?

I think it’s twofold. I think one, there are those who accept the argument made by the proponents of e-cigarettes that they are a form of reducing tobacco use and addiction and that they are fundamentally not harmful.

The second thing is, it seems clear to me from what I’ve seen that the tobacco interests actually have big interests in e-cigarettes, and that has an apparent influence on the political process ... I think that contributions are something that have an impact on the political process.


We’re spending a lot of time these days talking about keeping guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them, in particular those who may have some degree of mental disability and therefore some assumed probability they may misuse weapons and misuse them with horrific consequences, and I’m a co-author on the restraining order legislation. (Assembly Bill 1014 allows family members to obtain restraining orders barring gun use.)

My bill (Assembly Bill 1964, which Gov. Jerry Brown signed) comes at this same subject but from a slightly different angle, and that is to try to prevent this growing practice of taking weapons that you could not legally sell in California, convert them to a form that allows them to be legally sold and then easily convert them back.

Getting a new water bond on the ballot is obviously a priority for the rest of the term ... you’ve been working on the groundwater issue with Sen. (Fran) Pavley. Is it possible to pursue that on a separate track, or has it inevitably become bound up with the fate of the water bond?

Undertaking a program of developing sustainable groundwater management in the state is not dependent on whether we have more money for water supply infrastructure or not. I do think there’s a connection between the two but they aren’t inextricably intertwined, and the real connection between the two, I think, is that the water bond could supply some money that could be used to help develop underground storage and recharging aquifers.

The political connection that has attempted to be drawn by those, particularly in agriculture, who said we don’t want to do something on groundwater unless and until we know there’s going to be money for above-ground storage. But that’s a political connection or a rhetorical connection.

Do you think it’s likely we’ll have a water bond at all?

I think it actually depends on whether, in the Senate, you can get Republican votes to get two-thirds.

Can we agree between $11 billion and $6 billion, on a number with the governor? We can agree on a number. Can we agree on a composition with the governor? Yes, I believe we can agree on composition. The question is, as you skinny this down and you get closer to $6 billion, do you inevitably lose any Republicans in the Senate who might vote for it because you also necessarily skinny down what’s going to go to storage?

What are you doing to differentiate yourself from Richard Pan?

I think the big difference between the two of us is the roots I have in Sacramento, the experience and the service in the community, and I think that was reflected in the primary results to begin with. I got outspent about $2 million to $300,000 and I won by more than nine points. As I walked and talked to people it’s not uncommon for me to have people come to the door and say, “Oh yeah, I know who you are.”

Do you think the Sacramento County DA should have prosecuted Richard Pan for his residency issues?

I look at (former Sen.) Rod Wright, who got prosecuted, and I look at (former Los Angeles City Councilman) Richard Alarcón, who got prosecuted, and I have a hard time seeing a distinction between what they did, which resulted in prosecutions, and what Richard Pan did.

Sen. (Darrell) Steinberg often expresses some reservations about the unintended consequences of term limits. Do you share that point of view?

Absolutely ... I think institutionally the term limits scheme we passed was disastrous.

When you’re talking about learning how something, organizationally speaking, like the state of California works, you don’t do that in two years.

Power abhors a vacuum. So when you remove people on a constant, churning basis it’s not as if the power that was exercised by elected officials disappeared. It didn’t vaporize. It migrated, and it migrated to the staff, it migrated to the third house, it migrated to the administration.

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