Capitol Alert

New Year’s resolutions for California political players

Gov. Jerry Brown announces plans in July 2012 to build a giant twin-tunnel system to move water from the Delta to farmland and cities. Since that time, opponents of the project have gained strength.
Gov. Jerry Brown announces plans in July 2012 to build a giant twin-tunnel system to move water from the Delta to farmland and cities. Since that time, opponents of the project have gained strength. The Associated Press

While other Californians pledge to drop a few pounds or quit smoking in the coming year, the state’s elected officials and political influence-wielders have loftier goals in mind. Here’s the list of resolutions we would expect them to make for 2016:

Gov. Jerry Brown: Defeat the anti-tunnel measure.

Some of Brown’s fiercest critics focus on a project that could be central to the governor’s legacy: the proposed twin tunnels that would divert Sacramento Delta water south. This latest proposal has never been subjected to a public vote, but that could be about to effectively change. An initiative, scheduled for the November ballot and backed by wealthy Stockton-area farmer Dean Cortopassi, threatens to derail the project by requiring public authorization of large revenue bonds that could be instrumental in funding the massive public works project. Supporters of the tunnels project are considering ways to arrange financing that could fall outside of the Cortopassi measure’s provisions.

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom: Win at the ballot box.

The upward trajectory of Newsom’s political career has benefited from his knack for getting out in front on base-galvanizing issues like same-sex marriage. He has been an early proponent of marijuana legalization, moving around the state collecting input before releasing a 100-page report on how to legalize it properly. He has also capitalized on public anger at mass shootings by backing a ballot initiative that would require background checks for ammunition purchases. As he builds toward his 2018 gubernatorial campaign, Newsom could use a couple of ballot-initiative wins to vindicate those stands and show he’s on the electorate’s side.

Organized labor: Secure a favorable Supreme Court ruling.

A case before the U.S. Supreme Court poses a major threat to organized labor. Friedrichs v. the California Teachers Association challenges the notion that a union can compel all employees it represents, even those who are not members, to pay “fair share” or “agency” fees to cover the cost of collective bargaining. The court invalidating such fees could strike a serious blow to the funding and membership of not just the CTA, as influential a power player as you’ll find in the corridors of the Capitol, but possibly to other public-employee unions as well.

Big business: Get a transportation funding deal.

Finding more money to fix California’s deteriorating roads has so far proved too heavy a lift for Brown and legislative leaders. Republicans have stood firmly against any proposal with the kind of gas tax increase or road user fee contemplated in the governor’s plan. But business groups have pushed hard for a deal, arguing that California’s competitiveness depends in part on sound infrastructure and placing them in the unusual position of siding with unions that would like to see more construction.

Assemblyman Anthony Rendon: Keep the moderate Democrats in line.

Incoming Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood, will take over a Democratic caucus housing an increasingly assertive bloc of business-friendly Democrats. Members of the moderate caucus threw their support behind Rendon’s leadership bid, but they could complicate his pursuit of liberal priorities. For example: Rendon’s environmentalist allegiance is well-established. He received 100 percent scores for his 2015 performance from the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters, the latter an organization he once led. Those groups looked less favorably on moderate Democrats who upended the green agenda by diluting climate change legislation, supported by Rendon and vigorously opposed by the oil industry, so it no longer pushed California to slash petroleum use.

Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León: See more minority students admitted to college.

Ask the Democratic leader about race in college admissions and he will tell you he owes where is is today to affirmative action. Voters have since prohibited race-conscious college admissions with Proposition 209, and last time de León and other lawmakers tried to reopen the issue with a bill that would have allowed voters to overturn the ban it got ugly. Democratic lawmakers balked – in particular those who faced a backlash from some Asian American constituents worried about losing out on prized college spots. That angered Latino and African American lawmakers and exposed some ethnic fractures in the caucus. But de León has continued to say he is determined to create more slots for minority and low-income students in California’s public universities.

California Republicans: Build some election momentum.

Even though California Republicans failed to win a statewide office or unseat incumbent Democratic members of Congress in 2014, the cycle brought some good news for a party that has grappled to stay relevant as its voter registration shrivels. Legislative candidates broke the Democratic two-thirds supermajority in Sacramento, suggesting that new party chair Jim Brulte’s back-to-basics approach was bearing fruit. That effort will get a new test in a presidential election year that will likely mean boosted Democratic voter turnout. GOP leaders will be keen to prove their strategy to donors by maintaining or expanding their numbers in the Legislature.

California Medical Association: Find more Medi-Cal money.

The California Medical Association and health care industry allies have been arguing for years that doctors who see patients on Medi-Cal don’t get paid enough, which hurts low-income patients by making it less financially viable for doctors to offer care. That position has taken on more weight amid a huge increase in new Medi-Cal enrollees. Despite budget surpluses, Brown hasn’t played ball, questioning the notion that higher payments ensure more access. Medical groups and labor allies are focusing on a ballot initiative to impose a $2-a-pack cigarette tax that could be used to fund Medi-Cal. Billionaire investor Tom Steyer is helping to bankroll the measure.

Environmentalists: Carry through the plastic bag prohibition.

One of the biggest environmental policies in years will come down to the voters in 2016. Almost as soon as Brown signed a 2014 bill banning single-use plastic bags, a group funded by plastic bag manufacturers launched a referendum drive. Environmental groups have for years decried the proliferation of bags they say clog waterways, endanger wildlife and gum up recycling machinery. Referendum proponents argue the ban will do little to benefit the environment, fall hardest on low-income voters and line the pockets of grocery stores via a fee for paper alternatives. This November we will see which argument wins out.

Jeremy B. White: 916-326-5543, @CapitolAlert

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