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An End to the "Most Productive Legislative Session in Decades"?
Will this year’s legislative session end up being titled “Kumbaya Continued”? Or will the new Republican freshmen, clearly more ideological than the previous class, lead a return to hyperpartisan standoffs and stagnation of yesteryear?
If last week’s unceremonious dumping of Assembly Republican Leader George Plescia by the Assembly Republican Caucus is any indication, then no one working under the dome should be booking their Tahoe vacations in July.
New GOP leader Mike Villines, a protégé of outgoing Sen. Chuck Poochigian, voted against last year’s bipartisan budget and against the bond package (in fact, he signed the ballot argument against the transportation bond). He won the bulk of the support of the 11 new members of the Assembly GOP frosh with a promise that the Assembly Republican’s Caucus “would be heard.”
Unfortunately, what the freshman Republicans apparently didn’t seem to hear was the thunderous roar of California’s electorate in November.
Voters overwhelmingly responded to Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s embrace of the bipartisan agenda put forward by Speaker Fabian Núñez. By hefty margins, they also approved the more than $40 billion infrastructure package the legislature put on the ballot that earned the Governor’s support (as well as a fraction of the Assembly GOP Caucus, including Plescia’s).
Critics charge that this wasn’t bipartisanship; it was simply the Republican Governor’s election-year conversion that led him to affix his signature on Democratic bills.
But most Capitol insiders know the bond package, as well as the budget, was put together by the four legislature leaders after the Governor walked away from negotiations. Both deals were shining examples of legislative bipartisanship at its finest.
To be sure, Democrats did well in both packages. Both Republicans didn’t do too shabbily either.
There were no new taxes -- the bottom line of all Republican legislators. In addition, Republicans negotiated nearly $3 billion in debt pay down; got a larger reserve than the Governor proposed; held the line of fees; won full funding for transportation and a pay down of transportation loans; forced into law a different school funding formula that helped suburban, Republican districts as well as more local control; and received mandated reimbursements for local government.
Despite their rhetoric about spending and new programs being the problem, Republicans sought -- and received -- funding increases for Valley Fever programs and the new Central Valley Partnership. (Apparently Republicans are only against new spending and programs unless they are for them.)
The most public battle of the budget also was a Republican “victory” – the denial of funding for children’s health program expansion proposed by Governor.
On the bonds, Republicans also won the only specific transportation earmark -- $1 billion for Highway 99. In the education bond, Republicans won $1 billion for charter schools and career technical education (the largest amounts ever). Democrats also included dozens of other Republican demands.
That Republicans had so much of their wish-lists included reflects the strong working relationship that Democratic leaders and their minority party counterparts had last year. The results of this bipartisanship resulted in what the San Francisco Chronicle called "the most productive legislative session in decades."
Given all that the legislature has shown it can accomplish by coming together, it would be unfortunate, at best, if the new Republican leadership and an ideologically rigid freshman class ignored the message voters sent in November.
So far, the Republican leadership at least seems comfortable saying the word "bipartisan." Whether the talk and their walk match up remains to be seen.
*This story originally appeared in the Capitol Weekly.
An End to the "Most Productive Legislative Session in Decades"?Posted by: billorton on November 25, 2006
While it would run counter to the general message of bipartisan cooperation from the electorate, it is in the interests of the legislative GOP minorities to dig themselves in for two years of trench warfare. They gain little electorally by going along with any course of moderation by the Governor and each member stands to be challenged within their own base in the primary if they are seen as kowtowing to the Democratic agenda. Their strength lay in stopping the budget and escalating conflict. Mr. McClintock's behavior will be telltale, as he stands the most to gain by rejecting that course. Appearing as a statesman allows the gentleman to run strong in his next statewide race, but he also must answer to his base, and his donors want a frothing attack on all that is liberal, and the dude is not strong enough to resist the knee-jerk reaction to deliver.
The Majority Vote