The two men who are competing to replace Sen. Darrell Steinberg in the California Senate have a lot in common.
They are both Sacramento Democrats. They have both served four years in the state Assembly. And during the last legislative session, they voted the same way more than 97 percent of the time.
Yet Richard Pan and Roger Dickinson are hardly carbon copies. The scant 2.6 percent of floor votes in which they were opposed show distinctly different approaches to several issues, including gambling, health care and the environment.
The Bee analyzed every vote the two candidates cast on the Assembly floor during the 2013-14 legislative session and found that they agreed nearly 3,600 times. The differences emerged in 98 votes the candidates cast over the two-year period:
▪ On gambling: Dickinson voted “yes” on three tribal gambling compacts. Pan abstained from voting on them.
▪ On the environment: In general, when their votes diverged, Dickinson took the position held by environmental advocates while Pan took the position supported by major industries, including oil, logging and retail.
▪ On health care: Pan – a doctor – generally took positions held by physicians, while Dickinson – a lawyer – generally voted counter to their interests when the two disagreed.
The candidates’ diverging positions are reflected in the interest groups supporting them. Dickinson is benefiting from spending by lawyers, optometrists and environmental groups. Pan has backing from doctors, labor unions and real estate interests, as well as insurance, pharmaceutical and oil companies.
The race for the 6th Senate District has attracted more outside spending than any other same-party legislative race in California, with interest groups spending more than $1.9 million so far this year to support Pan or oppose Dickinson. Other interest groups have spent more than $415,000 to support Dickinson or oppose Pan. The money is largely going toward attack ads that ignore many of the policy differences that emerged in The Bee’s analysis of the candidates’ legislative voting records.
Because bills pass the Legislature by garnering “yes” votes from a majority of each house, an abstention has the same impact as a “no” vote. Pan said he withheld his vote on the tribal compacts because he thinks gambling can be harmful to families.
“As a parent and a pediatrician and also as someone of Asian heritage, I am not an enthusiastic supporter of expanding gambling in communities. I think there are downsides of gambling,” Pan said.
“I’m not a prohibitionist. I’m not looking to shut down casinos. ... But I’m also not interested in trying to expand gambling beyond the current circumstance in which we allow gambling.”
Dickinson said he has always supported tribal gambling.
“If they have an economic opportunity, they ought to have a chance to realize that economic opportunity,” Dickinson said. “It’s not a moral question. It’s how do you do it in a way that’s regulated, safe and honest.”
On environmental legislation, Pan said he takes a practical rather than ideological approach, while Dickinson said he puts the welfare of ordinary Californians above industry interests.
Both men voted for Senate Bill 4 last year to regulate the controversial oil-extraction method known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. But before the bill, which ultimately was signed into law, was amended to remove the oil industry’s opposition, a handful of bills were introduced to curb fracking or require more disclosure from companies engaged in the practice. The oil industry opposed those measures, which Pan helped defeat by not casting a vote. Dickinson, on the other hand, voted “yes” on Assembly Bills 1323, 288 and 669.
“In the case of fracking, given the experience in other parts of the country this is where I would apply the precautionary principle,” Dickinson said. “If you have something where the adverse impacts ... may be significant but there are unknowns – you (should) take a cautious approach.”
Pan said he didn’t vote on the early fracking measures because it was clear that negotiations were focused on SB 4, by Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills.
“Fran Pavley was not doing a bill for the oil companies. She was doing a bill that would actually get through both houses of the Legislature and get signed, so that we would regulate fracking, not just so we could take symbolic votes against fracking,” Pan said.
“I want to make sure that we make laws that can successfully get passed, and change what’s happening in the state in a positive way.”
Votes the assemblymen cast on two bills to cut down more trees in areas prone to wildfires also illustrate their differing approaches to environmental policy. Pan voted “yes” on Assembly Bills 744 and 1867, which were supported by firefighters and the timber industry and opposed by the Sierra Club.
“Those bills were to improve fire protection and improve fire safety for people,” Pan said.
Dickinson abstained from voting on both measures, saying “it was questionable whether we need to go that far,” in expanding defensible space around homes in the woods.
On health care legislation, Pan said he makes decisions based on expertise developed while caring for patients and teaching medical students at UC Davis. Dickinson said he draws from his experience as a lawyer in the state Department of Consumer Affairs.
Many health care debates in the Capitol come down to industry fights between doctors and other health professionals, with non-doctors typically lobbying for permission to expand the services they can offer and physicians generally fighting to hold on to their turf. On two of these “scope of practice” bills, Dickinson voted “yes” on AB 1000 to allow physical therapists to see patients without a referral from a doctor and AB 1308 to allow midwives to deliver babies without supervision of a doctor. Pan abstained on those bills.
Dickinson said he supports “enlargements in scope” as a strategy to help patients access medical care in the face of California’s doctor shortage.
“Nurse practitioners, pharmacists, physical therapists, optometrists – there is a whole range of allied health professionals who are more than capable in providing care,” Dickinson said.
Pan said he he makes decisions based on scientific studies and his knowledge of the training required for various medical professions.
“It’s about keeping people safe and healthy and being sure we have appropriate standards,” he said, pointing out that he does not oppose all bills that expand the scope of practice for non-doctors.
For example, Pan and Dickinson each voted for AB 154 last year, which allows nurse practitioners to perform first-trimester abortions.
“Data showed this could be safely done, and I supported the bill,” Pan said.
Pan voted against a bill to require suicide prevention training for therapists, saying it’s an overreach for the Legislature to dictate how professionals are trained.
“When you tell someone you have to do x and y from the Legislature, instead of having our professionals decide, it doesn’t lead to a better outcome and it may actually take time away from focusing on other topics,” Pan said.
Dickinson said he voted for the bill as he reflected on several high-profile suicides. “I thought it – on balance – made sense to institute some additional training,” he said.
Pan voted “yes” on AB 1771 to require insurance companies to cover some doctor visits by telephone, a measure sponsored by the doctors lobbying association and opposed by insurers. Dickinson abstained on the bill, saying he saw it as a money-grab by doctors that could result in patients paying higher insurance rates.
Call Laurel Rosenhall, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916)321-1083. Follow her on Twitter @LaurelRosenhall. Jim Miller of The Bee Capitol Bureau contributed to this story.
HOW THEY DIFFER
Sacramento Democratic Assemblymen Richard Pan and Roger Dickinson have cast hundreds of votes on legislation and agreed nearly all the time. But there have been some differences. Here’s a look at some bills from the 2013-14 legislative session in which the two cast opposing floor votes. Because bills pass the Legislature by garnering “yes” votes from a majority of each house, an abstention has the same impact as a “no” vote.
Dickinson voted “yes” on three tribal gambling compacts – for the Ramona Band of Cahuilla Indians, the Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians and the North Fork Rancheria band of Mono Indians. Pan abstained from voting on all three compacts.
▪ Fracking: Dickinson voted “yes” on three measures to limit hydraulic fracturing or to put more disclosure requirements on oil companies engaged in the oil-extraction method known as fracking. The oil industry opposed those measures – Assembly Bills 1323, 288 and 669 – which Pan helped defeat by not casting a vote.
▪ Logging: Pan voted “yes” for two bills supported by firefighters and the timber industry to allow more trees to be cut down in areas prone to wildfires. Dickinson abstained from voting on Assembly Bills 744 and 1867, which were both opposed by the Sierra Club.
▪ Air quality: Pan voted “yes” on a measure to reduce carpool lane hours on a section of freeway in Los Angeles. Dickinson abstained on AB 405, which the Sierra Club opposed. Dickinson voted “yes” on a bill to develop a strategy to reduce pollutants that are not covered by the state’s existing climate-change law. Pan abstained from voting on SB 605, which was opposed by the oil and farming industries.
▪ Water quality: Dickinson voted “yes” on a bill to prohibit the sale of products containing plastic microbeads, a popular ingredient in skin-care products that environmentalists say harms the ocean after being flushed down the drain. Pan abstained from voting on AB 1699, which was opposed by the plastic industry and major retailers.
▪ Scope of practice: Dickinson voted “yes” on AB 1000 to allow physical therapists to see patients without a referral from a doctor and AB 1308 to allow midwives to deliver babies without supervision by a doctor, while Pan abstained on those bills.
▪ Telemedicine: Pan voted “yes” on AB 1771 to require insurance companies to cover some doctor visits by telephone, a measure sponsored by the doctors lobbying association and opposed by insurers. Dickinson abstained on the bill.
▪ Vision tests/Suicide prevention: Dickinson voted “yes” on AB 1840 to allow photoscreening machines to be used in testing students’ vision at school and AB 2198 to require suicide prevention training for therapists. Pan voted no on those bills, which were opposed, respectively, by pediatricians and psychologists.