Key divides vex CA Democrats

by James Poulos | November 18, 2015 5:54 am

Democrats fighting logo[1]As the dominant political party of California, Democrats have begun to fall victim to one of the more humbling rules of power: When your team has few tough battles to fight, it often turns on itself. From politics to economics and beyond, the party’s dominance has bred sometimes sharp disagreements that leaders have proven unable to tamp down or brush aside.

Fighting over the spoils

With an election year on the way, Democrats jockeying for power in Sacramento have found themselves in fractious intra-party competitions. “Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, faulted by some for not controlling her moderate faction, is being forced out of her seat by term limits but doesn’t want to retire, so she is challenging Sen. Marty Block’s bid for a second term in San Diego,” as Dan Walters observed[2] at the Sacramento Bee. “Atkins says Block had promised to retire after one term and cede the Senate seat to her, but he denies it. The stage is thus set for what is likely to be an expensive and nasty duel between two conventionally liberal Democrats.” Another drama has centered around Raul Bocanegra’s establishment-backed effort to wrest back his seat from insurgent Patty Lopez, Walters added.

On budgeting, meanwhile, Gov. Jerry Brown’s unwillingness to capitulate to Democrats’ demands for greater largesse was thrown into a striking new light by the news that California’s balance sheet is $1 billion stronger than projected this fiscal year. “The surplus suggests Brown was indeed conservative during budget negotiations,” according[3] to Capital Public Radio. “The governor insisted on using lower revenue estimates, while legislative Democrats had pushed for some limited additional spending.”

Republicans, whose idea of fiscal discipline tends to go well beyond Brown’s own, see Democrats’ power struggle over spending as a double-edged sword. Giving too much credit or support to Brown would weaken the already anemic state GOP, while undermining him would fuel an insurgency from the Left. But in a telling signal of how Republican officials sought to resolve the dilemma, the party has pointedly withdrawn[4] itself from races where business-friendly or Brown-allied Democrats faced a matchup against more liberal or union-funded challengers. Speculation has built that the pattern could effectively repeat itself in the campaign to replace outgoing U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer. Thanks to California’s new primary system, “it just may happen that no Republican survives next June’s Top Two primary, letting Harris and Sanchez split the larger Democratic vote and duke it out in the fall,” according[5] to the Californian. “To prevent that, two of the Republicans will have to drop out long before that primary.”

Unions divided

Even without the added pressure of GOP machinations, organized labor, a powerful Democratic constituency, has found itself fractured in the Golden State. California, the state with the most lower-wage employees, has been at the forefront of activists’ successful movement to boost minimum wages in the absence of federal legislation. But now, that effort has been imperiled by its own strength.

“The SEIU mega-local UHW, based in the San Francisco Bay Area, has long been campaigning for a 2016 ballot measure for a $15 minimum and has already gathered the requisite number of signatures to get it on the ballot,” the American Prospect reported[6], drawing the support of Democrats like Lt. Gov Gavin Newsom and the mayors of party strongholds like Oakland and San Francisco. Yet the dominance of Democrats and labor has produced internal competition. The SEIU California State Council rolled out a measure of its own “that would also raise the minimum to $15 while expanding access to paid sick leave for home-care workers.”

“The competing measures are the latest skirmish in the running battle between the UHW leaders and the leaders of the national union, joined by other state SEIU honchos, over questions of SEIU’s strategy and structure,” the Prospect noted. “The skirmish has higher-wage advocates worried that two competing measures will diminish state voters’ considerable support (68 percent in the Field Poll) for a $15 minimum wage, so much so that both measures could go down to defeat.”

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