Democrats divided on big issues in CA
Although Democrats in California are eager to celebrate major victories next Tuesday, political fault lines lie under their party.
From anti-rape legislation, to education reform, to health costs and beyond, an anticipated left-leaning consensus has failed to materialize in the Golden State. The resulting controversies, disagreements and difficulties in politicking have thrown a surprising degree of doubt on Democrats’ broader election-year routine.
National Democrats had grown accustomed to a clear, reliable dividing line between identity politics and more general issues. The distinction helped strategists protest the status quo for allies with powerful institutional interests — while microtargeting voters based on criteria like race or ethnicity, sex or gender, age, immigrant status and sexual orientation.
But the new cleavages among California liberals have upset that carefully calibrated approach, leading to close scrutiny and, in some cases, close state elections.
Yes means yes
The phenomenon became hard to ignore when the national political media picked up on sharp disagreements over California’s new “yes means yes” legislation, which requires affirmative sexual consent at universities receiving state funding. Initially, the controversial bill seemed poised to become law without incident.
Outside the state, however, commentators influential among establishment liberals and progressives found themselves at loggerheads over the implications of its strict, invasive rules. As the Los Angeles Times observed, the scuffle — which drew in figures at publications ranging from Vox to The Nation to New York magazine — escalated into “a clash between those who believe the law is too intrusive and those who believe intrusiveness is the entire point.”
For Democrats, the political point has become clear: rather than helping cement a consensus among liberal voters about how to advance legislation concerning sex, “yes means yes” has given voters a stark reason to reassess what they want out of Democrats in that regard.
Given the significance Democrats have placed on the women’s vote in recent years, and the hope they have placed in rising generations of younger voters, the news is especially unwelcome.
California also gave Democrats a preview of even broader and more fundamental divides on the left.
When Judge Rolf Treu handed down the Vergara ruling, which held public teacher tenure protections to unconstitutionally infringe students’ rights, Democrats split immediately. Some, like Gov. Jerry Brown, went to bat for the teachers unions.
Others, like U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, presented the ruling as a clarion call to improve educational opportunities for all students. Because many underperforming schools and teachers have been found in districts with substantial (or majority) minority populations, some Democrats recognized they could be forced into an uncomfortable choice.
On the one hand, Democrats wished to stand publicly for the interests of minority children and families. On the other, they wanted to defend teachers unions, which have long played a decisive role in Democrats’ political success, especially in California.
These broad political challenges quickly crystallized into a pitched battle over the tenure of one man: California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, a dedicated ally of the teachers unions. Torlakson’s incumbency has become a referendum on his staunch opposition to the Vergara decision.
His challenger, former charter schools executive Marshall Tuck, also is a Democrat — creating an intra-party race as close and bitter as any in recent memory, even though officially the post is non-partisan.
If Tuck wins, an even bigger confrontation will arise, pitting him against Brown and Attorney General Kamala Harris, his fellow Democrats, assuming both are re-elected. Brown handily is leading Republican challenger Neel Kashkari, who applauded the Vergara decision.
Harris filed the state’s appeal of Vergara on behalf of Brown. Her opponent is Republican Ronald Gold, who urged her not to appeal Vergara. He asked, “Is she with students, particularly inner city and economically disadvantaged ones, or is she with the teachers unions that support her campaign?”
Even after their expected victories next Tuesday, that’s the kind of headache California Democrats can do without.
Health insurance costs
Finally, the remarkable divides among California Democrats on Proposition 45 could establish another pattern of disagreement for liberals nationwide. It would give the California insurance commissioner the power of approval over changes in health-insurance rates — including over Covered California, the state’s implementation of Obamacare.
Prop. 45 is sponsored by the left-leaning Consumer Watchdog organization.
It comes down to this: Will Covered Care rates be set as part of the federal legislation, or by the state insurance commissioner because of Prop. 45?
The official Ballot Pamphlet from the California Secretary of State features the dueling liberal visions.
The Pro side insists: “Proposition 45 will lower healthcare costs by preventing health insurance companies from jacking up rates and passing on unreasonable costs to consumers.”
The Anti side retorts: “Prop. 45 creates even more expensive state bureaucracy, duplicating two other bureaucracies that oversee health insurance rates, causing costly confusion with other regulations and adding more red tape to the health care system.”
These political fault lines are just opening up, and are likely to get even larger.
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President Trump on Wednesday launched the first salvo in what seems likely to end up a war with the state
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