California Progressives Face Off with Swing District Democrats

Just when it seemed like California was destined to swing to the far left, recent lawmakers have shut down progressive objectives, giving hope to conservative Californians. With the vast majority of California being deep blue, it was a victory for conservatives when bills regarding the control of charter school growth, curbing of oil production, regulation of e-cigarettes, and reduction of data privacy rights were shut down. Furthermore, the prevention of restrictions on home owners and soda consumption were also considerable victories for the right. However, some progressive policies were also approved, but were curtailed somewhat during the legislative process.

Why are the progressive objectives getting rejected in a heavily Democratic state? The answer is largely the effect of swing district Democrats. These Democrats are reluctant to support tax increases and are in no rush to utilize the entire $21 billion state budget surplus or $16 billion rainy day fund.

Currently, Democrats represent 75 percent of the state legislature, with most bills only needing a simple majority to pass. However, emergency measures and appropriations bills, such as tax increases, require a two-thirds majority in both legislative chambers. Many Democrats representing swing districts are hesitant to support such bills, fearing that doing so may lead to electoral consequences.

Some have given the title of “sucker state” to California for failing to follow through on progressive promises and inability of Democrats to utilize their supermajority power. That being said, California is still decisively swinging to the left. Ranging from the plan to allow low income undocumented immigrants to obtain health insurance to managing the prevalent housing crisis to stopping executions, progressives have been able to enact big parts of their agenda.

How do Republicans deal with a Democratic-run Legislature? CalChamber President Allan Zaremberg attributes the success to two components: bad ideas from Democrats and good lobbying. While expensive, good lobbying has managed to help shut down poorly-crafted bills related to the oil industry and public health.

The actual success of good lobbying will be tested in the Senate next week when the argument involving organized labor and business interests is presented. Furthermore, it will be tested when Governor Newsom proposes to increase the earned income tax credit. To most California Democrats, the proposal should pass quickly, yet the swing district Democrats will likely be the ultimate deciders.