In the Capitol, two chambers often at odds
SACRAMENTO — When it comes to politics, most people think in terms of red versus blue, with Republicans fighting Democrats.
But in California’s Capitol, the battle line often is between red and green, the colors of the carpets in the Senate and Assembly chambers.
Over the years, the mood has ranged from friendly rivalry to open warfare between the two houses, which bookend either side of the Capitol’s ornate rotunda.
By the time the legislative session ended in the early morning hours on Saturday, some Capitol veterans said they felt the tension had worsened.
“It seems significantly heightened,” said Jennifer Fearing, a lobbyist whose clients include animal rights and nonprofit groups. The situation was exacerbated, she said, by a flood of controversial and consequential proposals that originated in the more-liberal Senate, an imbalance that left the more-moderate Assembly feeling like a dumping ground for political hot potatoes.
Lawmakers did approve major legislation this year, including funding for affordable housing, new protections for immigrants in the country illegally and an extension for the state’s cap-and-trade program. Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) likes to say it was one of the most productive sessions in the state’s history.
But reminders of the tension bubbled beneath the surface and sometimes broke into public view.
After lawmakers finished their work, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Paramount) began his speech with a dig at the occasionally loquacious De León.
“The pro tem began his goodnight speech about an hour and a half ago,” he said, drawing chuckles from the chamber. “I won’t last that long.”
Anthony Reyes, a spokesman for De León, didn’t appreciate the jab.
“I don’t understand why he engenders this bitterness toward the pro tem in his house,” Reyes posted on Twitter on Saturday. “Results in serious petulance over there.”
On Thursday night, Assemblyman Adrin Nazarian (D-Sherman Oaks) initially refused to vote yes on a key housing measure that originated in the Senate.
“I was frustrated with the way some things were being handled from the Senate leadership,” he said. “I had decided that I would, from time to time, abstain on several bills at a time indiscriminately just so there would be a certain level of discomfort.” After holding out for an hour, Nazarian voted yes. Relationships between the chambers frayed this year when senators approved legislation for a single-payer, government-run healthcare system. The idea has been a goal of progressive advocates for years, but the proposal didn’t include details on how the state would pay for it.
Assembly members felt the Senate was tossing a controversial issue in their laps. Rendon halted the proposal and dismissed it as “symbolic” with “no substance.”
Sam Blakeslee, a former assemblyman and senator from the Central Coast, said there has always been “a vast cultural divide” between the Assembly and Senate.
“The latter, the so-called upper body, often holds the former in quiet contempt,” he said. “Assembly members resent this elitism and often relish sabotaging Senate bills.”
V. John White, a veteran energy advocate, shared a version of an adage that circulates around the Democratdominated Capitol: “The Republicans are the opposition, but the other house is the enemy.”