Data Tracker

Party lines got a little fuzzier in Legislature’s 2015-2016 session

Watch the Assembly Appropriations Committee roll through bills

Things happen fast when appropriations committees churn through their "suspense files." In this video, Chairwoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, goes through four bills in a minute on Aug. 11, 2016. The fates of the bills were decided privately in
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Things happen fast when appropriations committees churn through their "suspense files." In this video, Chairwoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, goes through four bills in a minute on Aug. 11, 2016. The fates of the bills were decided privately in

Many faces have changed, but much about the California Legislature remains the same as a decade ago: Lawmakers consider thousands of bills and other measures, which frequently pass or fail strictly along party lines.

But those lines were notably fuzzier in the just-completed session compared with a decade ago, legislative voting records show.

The shift illustrates a Democratic-controlled Legislature now slightly more open to Republican positions, particularly from the business lobby. It has led to the scuttling or softening of workplace legislation sought by unions and environmental proposals on climate change, groundwater and fracking.

In the session that ended Aug. 31, any two Republican and Democratic lawmakers cast the same floor votes about three-quarters of the time, on average. During the 2005-06 session, Democrats and Republicans voted the same way about 60 percent of the time.

Assembly vote agreement 80 percent and above

Some lawmakers shared a particularly large percentage of votes with colleagues in the other party. In the Assembly, for example, Assemblywoman Catharine Baker, R-Dublin, voted the same way as her Democratic colleagues more than 80 percent of the time, on average, as did state Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres, in the Senate.

How to explain the increase in across-the-aisle voting rates from a decade ago? There have been some significant changes in how California chooses its lawmakers.

Senate vote agreement 80 percent and above

In 2008, California voters put an independent commission, instead of the Legislature, in charge of drawing legislative districts. The panel drew 2011 districts based on communities of interest and other criteria – but not party registration and voting patterns used to help draw the gerrymandered districts that existed in 2005-06.

The result has been more competitive seats. Baker and several other lawmakers who voted with the other side at higher rates in 2015-16 represent evenly divided districts and face tough re-election fights.

In addition, voters approved a top-two primary system in 2010. Candidates of the same party can now face off in November, a change that, among other effects, has expanded business interests’ ability to elect preferred candidates in strongly Democratic areas.

In the Assembly, a bloc of business-friendly Democrats has helped scuttle or force changes to legislation supported by more liberal Democrats. Assembly members Adam Gray, D-Merced, Tom Daly, D-Santa Ana, and former Assemblyman Henry Perea, D-Fresno, shared stances with Republican colleagues more than 77 percent of the time, on average, in floor votes.

Another possible reason for the higher across-the-aisle voting average? Ray Haynes, Tom McClintock and Jackie Goldberg no longer serve in the California Legislature (McClintock’s in Congress). Avowedly conservative Republicans Haynes and McClintock and liberal Democrat Goldberg shared votes with colleagues of the other party barely one-half of the time in 2005-06.

Data Tracker is a regular feature that breaks down the numbers behind today’s news. Explore more trends at sacbee.com/datatracker.

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