The Capitol’s longest-running conflict pits business against four liberal groups – labor unions, consumer advocates, personal injury attorneys and environmentalists.
The latter have agendas and look to a Legislature dominated by liberal Democrats to enact them. Their bills would generally increase employee compensation, make it easier to sue and collect damages, and add new regulations.
It became evident in the late 1990s that Democrats would become dominant in California – and therefore in the Capitol – after decades of seesaw power struggles. And businesses, knowing they could no longer depend on Republican legislators and governors to protect them from their four rivals, pivoted on political strategy.
The California Chamber of Commerce and other business groups began cultivating business-friendly Democrats, both those already elected to the Legislature and potential legislative candidates.
The emergence of this alternative “business Democrat” bloc coincided with the election of Democrat Gray Davis as governor after 16 years of Republican governors. He, too, cultivated business support and often frustrated liberal activists, who were already unhappy with the “BD” phenomenon.
Davis was recalled in 2003 and succeeded by Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger, who also frustrated liberals. And late in his governorship, he sponsored a business-backed drive to create a “top-two” primary election system whose unspoken motive was to make it easier to elect more BDs.
As it led the strategic pivot for business nearly two decades ago, CalChamber also instituted its “job killer” program, targeting bills it considered to be most noxious – measures that have been, for the most part, high on the liberal groups’ agendas.
That, too, has been very successful. More than 600 bills were given the “job killer” epithet over the last 18 years and fewer than 50 made it into law. In some years, none did.
Over the years, the number of bills targeted by the chamber has generally declined, which implies that the four liberal groups have reduced their agendas. This year – at least so far – just 19 bills are on the CalChamber list, and at the halfway point of the session, 12 of the 19 are already dead or stalled out, while seven have won approval in their first legislative house and therefore are still moving.
The seven survivors include two measures that would expand and extend the state’s “cap-and-trade” system of reducing greenhouse gases, including the multibillion-dollar fees that business pay to receive emission credits.
The chamber contends the fees are taxes that should face two-thirds votes in the Legislature, not be imposed by the Air Resources Board on its own, and is pursuing a lawsuit to that effect.
It illustrates that the long-running battle between business and the four liberal groups is waged on many fronts, including the courts.