New Senate Prez de Leon pushes agenda

New Senate Prez de Leon pushes agenda

Kevin de Leon, from his Senate websiteState Sen. Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, has been chosen by his party colleagues to lead them in the Senate.

The selection pulls the California Democratic Party further to the left. De Leon’s rise from poverty in San Diego’s rough Logan Heights neighborhood attracts admiration from Republicans and fellow Democrats alike. But his political rise, with its roots in community organizing and the California Teachers Association, set him on a course where partisan compromise was rarely sought or necessary.

Both de Leon’s recent political history and his activist roots shed light on his agenda as Senate president pro tempore. Given his longstanding interest in expanding public education and boosting state funding, he is expected to push for the kinds of initiatives that Gov. Jerry Brown has often found a way to stall or sidetrack.

Outgoing chief Senate Democrat Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, proposed a sweeping plan for universal pre-kindergarten education that Brown successfully blunted for fiscal reasons. Brown is now running for re-election, however, giving de Leon and fellow faithful liberals an opportunity to push harder for pet projects and cherished programs.

Damage control

De Leon’s plans are not restricted to the details of a policy agenda, however. Foremost on his list of priorities is restoring two important achievements lost by Senate Democrats this year: a legislative supermajority, and the public trust that went with it. Three Senate Democrats currently face investigation and criminal charges. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, has been indicted for bribery and corruption. Rod Wright, D-Inglewood, was found guilty of eight counts including felony voter fraud and perjury. And Leland Yee, in a particularly galling scandal, was arrested in a federal sting that culminated in corruption and trafficking charges.

Commenting on the situation after his election to his new post, de Leon used carefully chosen words. “I think what happened was an amazing anomaly when you have three individuals [indicted] in a short window of time,” he said, emphasizing the “new Senate rules” Democrats put in place in an effort to control the political damage. De Leon introduced one of the measures, Resolution 44, in a session this month that created an ombudsman, strengthened whistleblower protections and prohibited fundraising in August, the final month on the legislative calendar.

But de Leon will preside over a party chamber that rejected some proposed ethics rules and watered down others — leading to predictable Republican criticism.

Election uncertainty

Beyond simply cleaning house, de Leon and fellow Democrats face an uphill battle recovering enough public support to return them to a Senate supermajority.

Two contests will feature a rematch of the top two vote-getters in the recent jungle primary races. Despite registration advantages, the Los Angeles Times reports, Democrats trailed in both the 12th and 14th district primaries. Republicans are the incumbent party in both those races. In the first, state Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres, thumped Democrat Shawn Bagley of Salinas. In the second, state Sen. Andy Vidak, R-Hanford, outpaced Democrat Luis Chavez, a member of the Fresno Unified School Board.

Additionally, Republicans are looking to make good on their lead in the 34th district. There, Janet Nguyen, a member of the Orange County Board of Supervisors, led former Assemblyman Jose Solorio, a Democrat.

All told, though the situation is fluid and complicated by redistricting, horserace watchers give the edge to Republicans in all three of these campaigns. Plus, with business interests sensing an opportunity for Republican gains, candidates on the bubble may find it easier to drum up campaign cash.

Short on time

De Leon is relatively young, at 47 years old. But he is termed out of office in 2018. Four years is not a wealth of time to meet his objectives, given California’s shifting political fortunes.

Nevertheless, as the first Latino to hold his position in well over a century, de Leon will likely anticipate a level of support that will permit him to meet several of his objectives so long as Republicans do not make more than minor gains.

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