Capitol Alert

Moderate Democrats don’t want you to think they’re in oil industry’s pocket

Assemblyman Matt Dababneh addresses a group of supporters during a rally and at the Capitol on April 29, 2014.
Assemblyman Matt Dababneh addresses a group of supporters during a rally and at the Capitol on April 29, 2014. The Sacramento Bee file

Even when you control the votes, you can’t always control the message.

While the story of last session may have been the ascendance of a loosely-affiliated caucus of moderate Assembly Democrats, some of its members are not happy about how one of their biggest accomplishments was portrayed.

At a panel Friday hosted by business groups, including the California Business Properties Association, several lawmakers complained that their objections this session to Senate Bill 350 – the priority climate-change measure ultimately stripped of its signature initiative to reduce gasoline use by half – were viewed as a kowtow to heavy lobbying by the oil industry.

The reality, Assemblyman Matt Dababneh said, is they were concerned about not having a say in developing the regulatory framework of the law, which would be handed over to independent agencies like the California Air Resources Board.

“I’ve never seen a legislative body criticized so much for asking for oversight,” the Los Angeles Democrat said. “We saw a firestorm about that.”

Assemblyman Jim Cooper, D-Elk Grove, added that it was “not a mod issue.” He said more than half of Assembly Democrats crowded Speaker Toni Atkins’ office at one point to air their grievances about SB 350.

But supporters of the bill were unwilling to consider a smaller reduction in gasoline use, he added. “One you questioned it, people packed their toys up and went home.”

The panelists agreed that the transportation funding shortfall was the biggest unresolved issue of the last session.

“The Republicans in the Assembly are so petrified of voting for any tax for any service that they become irrelevant,” Dababneh said.

Dababneh blamed the pressure created by anti-tax groups such as the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, which he called “kind of a joke.” (His office later provided a statement from Dababneh that he was referring to the criteria the group uses for its annual legislative scorecard.)

Editor’s note: This post was updated at 4:05 p.m. with a statement from Dababneh.

Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff