Capitol Alert

Rural Californians seek to take Los Angeles and its ‘tyranny of the majority’ down a notch

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It’s a time-honored complaint at the Capitol: If you’re not from Los Angeles or the San Francisco Bay Area, then the needs of your district are being ignored.

Assemblyman James Gallagher believes he has the solution.

The Yuba City Republican plans to introduce a constitutional amendment that would realign the state Senate from 40 equal districts of nearly 1 million people to eight “geographically and culturally distinct regions of the state” that each elect five representatives. Think of it as the Congress-ization of the California Legislature, elevating rural north state voters and Central Valley agricultural communities in the Senate while leaving proportional representation intact in the Assembly.

“California is tough to govern, because it is so diverse,” Gallagher said. “You have a lot of regions of the state who feel overlooked.”

To be clear: The proposal is a very, very, very long shot.

First, it would have to pass through both houses of the Legislature with a two-thirds vote to put it on the ballot. That would require at least a significant number of ruling Democrats, who just won a legislative supermajority last November, to support a new system that could lead to the election of more Republicans in some regions.

The eight proposed regional districts – which range in size from 923,000 registered voters in Northern California to more than 5.2 million in Los Angeles County – include four with Democratic registration advantages of 20 percentage points or more, one with a distinct Republican slant and three relative toss-ups with much closer divisions.

“Whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, I think we can all agree there’s a benefit to having more of a voice,” Gallagher argues.

Then proponents would have to convince a majority of California voters in an upcoming election, even though many of them would lose representation as a result.

Finally, the law would have to survive a likely legal challenge under the 1966 U.S. Supreme Court decision that determined all legislative districts must be drawn according to the “one person, one vote” principle. Gallagher said his intention is to challenge and “evolve that judicial decision,” which he said has had negative consequences.

“Our founders understood that there is such thing as a tyranny of the majority,” he said, referring to the legislative dominance of Los Angeles and the Bay Area. “How do we ensure that minority voices are heard?”

Gallagher will be joined by Assemblyman Brian Dahle, R-Bieber; Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber; and local elected officials to unveil the proposal, 10 a.m. in Room 126 of the Capitol.

It follows less than a month after “State of Jefferson” supporters, who also feel ignored by Sacramento and want to carve a separate state out of Northern California, filed a lawsuit seeking to shrink the size of Assembly districts and give each county a state senator. Gallagher said their efforts are not connected, but he is “definitely supportive of the underlying principle.”

WORTH REPEATING: “It’s like it doesn’t matter who wins; it’s not going to affect their day-to-day lives.” - Oscar Durado, a voter in Tuesday’s special election in Los Angeles’ 34th Congressional District, describing people’s attitudes.

WHAT’S THAT SMELL?: Among the small handful of measures to fail on the Senate floor last week was a proposal to extend the moratorium on new natural gas injections at the Aliso Canyon storage site. Senate Bill 57, which would continue the prohibition until the state can determine a root cause for an October 2015 methane leak that was the largest in U.S. history, fell short of its required two-thirds threshold by three votes. Sen. Henry Stern, D-Los Angeles, and supporters still hope to revive the proposal by swaying some of the four Democrats and three Republicans who abstained over to their side. Residents of Porter Ranch, which neighbors Aliso Canyon in the San Fernando Valley, and environmental activists will rally at 10 a.m. outside the West Covina district office of Sen. Ed Hernandez, D-Azusa. They are challenging the 2018 lieutenant governor candidate for holding off on the SB 57 vote after taking more than $16,000 in campaign contributions over the past decade from Sempra Energy, which owns the gas company that operates Aliso Canyon.

FINISH IN FOUR: Amid public concern over rising student debt and political pressure to get more students through faster, California State University launched a new initiative last fall to more than double the four-year graduation rate across its 23-campus system. The ambitious plan aims to get 40 percent of freshmen out in four years and 70 percent done within six years by 2025, up sharply from the 19 percent four-year and 57 percent six-year rates in 2016. What strategies are schools taking to boost student achievement and meet those goals? The Senate Select Committee on Student Success will get a progress report, 1:30 p.m. in Room 3191 of the Capitol.

HOW I ROLL: Who will win the California Rice Commission’s annual “Capitol Roller” competition and the samurai sword awarded to the Legislature’s best sushi chef? The contest kicks off at noon at the Sheraton Grand Hotel Sacramento on J Street, with Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa; Assembly Republican Leader Chad Mayes; and Assembly members Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, D-Winters; Jim Cooper, D-Elk Grove; and Eloise Reyes, D-Grand Terrace, all slated to participate.

I WANT YOU!: It’s a tough political climate for California and its priorities, so the state has been putting itself at the forefront of the “resistance” to President Donald Trump. Leaders like Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon; Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León; Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones; Sen. Toni Atkins, D-San Diego; and Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer, D-Los Angeles, will teach their ways at a “resilience and resistance”-themed legislative day for The California Endowment, a private foundation focused on closing health inequities in communities across the state, starting at 9 a.m. at its office on K Street.

MUST READ: Was Berniecrats’ choice to lead California Democrats cheated out of the chairmanship?

Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff

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