Politics & Government

Dan Walters: Who won and who lost in California Legislature this year

Dan Walters
Dan Walters

The book closed on the 2013 legislative session when Gov. Jerry Brown signed or vetoed its last few bills.

Obviously, therefore, it’s time to tote up the winners and losers.

Two of the bigger winners were public employee labor unions and groups representing the state’s 3 million illegal immigrants.

The unions spend lavishly on legislative campaigns and have no natural enemies, at least not those with deep financial pockets.

While the business community often battles with private-sector unions, it has no stake in what the larger and more powerful public sector unions seek from the state’s politicians, so the latter operate freely.

The only brakes are Democratic politicians, including a governor, that they helped elect. And while they may not have gotten everything they sought, the public unions saw gains on several fronts, including higher pay, thus cashing in on the Democratic gains and new taxes in last year’s elections.

The deadlock on immigration reform in Congress gave Brown a rationale – or excuse – to sign bills aimed at semi-legalizing California’s illegal residents that he had opposed in the past.

“While Washington waffles on immigration, California’s forging ahead,” Brown said while signing one batch of immigration bills. “I’m not waiting.”

Illegal immigrants gained the rights to obtain driver’s licenses and become licensed lawyers, along with bills barring discrimination against them, and forbidding police to cooperate with immigration authorities in the “Secure Communities” program.

Another winner was the business community – oddly, one might think, given the big Democratic legislative majorities and a slew of bills sponsored by unions, trial lawyers, consumer activists and environmental groups.

The California Chamber of Commerce branded the 38 highest-profile bills as “job-killers” and managed to kill or sidetrack all but one, which raises the state minimum wage to $10.

Among those four liberal groups, the most conspicuous losers were the numerous environmental groups. Most were on the losing side of legislation that regulates but does not ban “fracking” to exploit the state’s shale-oil deposits, and lost when the Assembly turned back a bill to give the state Coastal Commission more enforcement powers.

While nothing happened on Brown’s plea for broad reform of the California Environmental Quality Act, the Legislature did pass more limited CEQA changes that the groups opposed. The difference may have been that unions didn’t like the big changes but backed the smaller changes.

The state’s still-troubled economy – and the advent of more Latino legislators from districts with high unemployment rates – may have been factors in why business was successful and environmentalists weren’t this year.

Or as one political consultant famously declared a couple of decades ago, “It’s the economy, stupid.”

Call The Bee’s Dan Walters, (916) 321-1195. Back columns, www.sacbee.com/walters. Follow him on Twitter@WaltersBee.

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