Editorials

A junior class of legislators for Sacramento region

Newly elected state officials, including Sen. Richard Pan, will have their work cut out as they take their oaths of office Monday to compete for Sacramento’s share of funding with Southern California and the Bay Area.
Newly elected state officials, including Sen. Richard Pan, will have their work cut out as they take their oaths of office Monday to compete for Sacramento’s share of funding with Southern California and the Bay Area. Sacramento Bee file

Sacramento’s clout will ebb on Monday when newly elected legislators take their oaths of office, a result of the churn brought about by term limits.

And though Sacramento residents may perceive their city as a liberal Democratic bastion, business interests that fund campaigns of moderates made significant gains in this region on Nov. 4.

Sacramento’s delegation has included some of the Legislature’s most liberal and influential members, among them Phil Isenberg and Lloyd Connelly, who represented the city as assemblymen in the 1980s and 1990s.

Deborah Ortiz, who served in the Assembly and Senate in the 1990s and early 2000s, and Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones, a former assemblyman, were no slouches, either.

More recently, Sacramento’s Darrell Steinberg was Senate president pro tem, placing him at the center of every major decision during the past six years, including water and Delta protection, policy related to mental health care, preschool, universities and prisons.

Incoming Assemblymen Kevin McCarty and Jim Cooper and newly elected state Sen. Richard Pan will have their work cut out, as Sacramento competes for its share of funding with Southern California and the Bay Area.

Pan, a pediatrician, is replacing Steinberg, having defeated Roger Dickinson, who had received Steinberg’s endorsement and was one of the Assembly’s more liberal members.

Pan benefited from millions of dollars in campaign donations and independent expenditures from insurance, business and doctors groups. His medical training helps in legislative debates involving science and health care. But to be a truly effective representative of the region, he will need to extend beyond the interests of doctors, something he rarely did during his two terms in the Assembly.

Democrats hold a 13-percentage-point registration advantage over Republicans in Sacramento County. But starting Monday, two of the more senior senators representing slices of the county will be Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, and Ted Gaines, R-Roseville, two of the upper house’s more conservative members. Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, represents a sliver of Sacramento County including Isleton.

In the Assembly, newly approved term limits allowing members to serve as many as 12 years in the lower house could enhance individual lawmakers’ sway over time. But even with loosened term limits, seniority matters.

McCarty, who will replace Dickinson, clearly understands the needs of the city, having served 10 years on the Sacramento City Council. He is angling for a seat on the Assembly budget committee, a post from which he could help the city secure funding for its priorities.

But he and Mayor Kevin Johnson are rivals. Steinberg had used his legislative position to help Johnson gain approval of the downtown arena. McCarty believes one reason he won his Assembly seat is that he voted against the arena financing plan when he was on the council.

Their spat flared recently when the mayor moved to undo a 2011 shift of UC Davis Medical Center into McCarty’s council district, and out of the Oak Park district where it had been. For the good of the city, McCarty and Johnson need to bury their hatchets, and not in each others’ backs.

Cooper, an Elk Grove city councilman and Sacramento County sheriff’s captain, is replacing Pan in the lower house. He will bring a background in law enforcement to the Legislature.

That expertise could be useful as the Legislature works to refine the criminal justice realignment approved in 2011. But Cooper needs to show independence from the oil, tobacco and other corporate interests that spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to help him win his election.

Assemblyman Ken Cooley, D-Rancho Cordova, is entering his second term and has shown an ability to represent his constituents.

To the west, Bill Dodd, the new assemblyman representing much of Yolo County, including Davis, is a former Napa County supervisor who was a Republican until 2012. He is replacing Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada of Davis, who had been among the more liberal members of the Assembly.

Voters repeatedly have shown they want term limits, and the constant change that it brings to legislative leadership. That can be a good thing. Steinberg probably never would have become Senate leader without term limits. But as Sacramento could soon discover, term limits have a downside.

  Comments