Assemblyman Roger Dickinson is the candidate best positioned to fill the void left when termed-out Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg departs after the Nov. 4 election.
Dickinson is running in the heavily Democratic Sacramento County district against fellow Democratic Assemblyman Richard Pan. Neither Dickinson, 64, nor Pan, 48, is likely to ascend to Steinberg’s leadership role.
But like Steinberg, Dickinson works hard and stays in touch with his constituents. After 16 years as a Sacramento County supervisor, and four years in the Assembly, Dickinson understands his city and region’s needs.
Steinberg, who has endorsed Dickinson, carried bills in many areas including the environment, water, education and mental health care. Similarly, Dickinson has varied interests, and has shown an ability to maneuver complicated bills through the Legislature.
In the most recent session, Dickinson pushed through hard-fought legislation signed by Gov. Jerry Brown that for the first time will require groundwater regulation in California.
Over objections from influential business groups, Dickinson won Brown’s signature on a bill providing greater consumer protections when credit and debit card data breaches occur.
Another Dickinson bill signed into law will require railroads to provide more information to emergency responders about trains carrying crude oil through cities.
Dickinson tackled the tough issue of school discipline, winning approval of legislation that will curb public school officials’ authority to suspend or expel students solely for willful defiance, a penalty that disproportionately falls on minority students.
Many Republican legislators opposed the measure, believing it will limit public schools’ ability to maintain order. But Dickinson gained support from several Republican legislators and maneuvered the bill past skeptical teachers’ unions.
The voting records of Pan and Dickinson are similar, though Pan, a physician, sides with doctors, and Dickinson, a lawyer, is aligned with plaintiffs’ attorneys. The lawyers and doctors lobbies are longtime rivals in the Capitol.
Many of Pan’s positions generally align with the views of The Sacramento Bee’s editorial board, opposing, for example, Proposition 46, which would open the way for more medical malpractice lawsuits. Dickinson supports the initiative. Pan would be the only physician in the Legislature, and provide an important voice.
However, Pan showed himself to be less than forthright, a fundamental quality that should matter to voters.
To comply with a state law requiring legislators to live in districts they represent, Pan bought a condo in the Pocket, while also keeping the family home in the Natomas area, outside his Assembly district. A Bee investigation last year showed Pan regularly stayed at the family home, not the condo.
Pan says he complied with the residency requirement. Sacramento County District Attorney Jan Scully didn’t pursue the matter, and has endorsed Pan. Many legislators have skirted the law, although that may change now that the Los Angeles district attorney has won a conviction against former Sen. Rod Wright for lying about his residency.
Pan made matters worse in 2012 and 2013 by accepting $142 per diem payments, a tax-free perquisite intended to defray living costs incurred by out-of-town legislators when the Legislature is in session.
Sacramento-area legislators generally don’t accept the payments. Pan collected a total of $52,133 in per diem during a two-year period, plus his annual salary of $95,291. He stopped collecting per diem this year, and lives in the family home, which is in the Senate district.
Whether you agree with Dickinson’s stands or not, he doesn’t pretend to be someone he’s not, and warrants voters’ support.