Republican lawmakers give California climate law a boost
SACRAMENTO, CALIF.» When California lawmakers backed a landmark law that seeks to combat global warming, the key support came from a surprising group of legislators: Republicans.
As the GOP nationally looks to roll back climate policies, a contingent of California Republicans is tentatively embracing them in defiance of much of the party’s base and its congressional leaders.
California’s top Republican Assemblyman and a handful of his colleagues are looking to put a conservative imprint on climate policy and a new face on their party, which has seen its influence steadily decline in the state.
“California is different from the rest of the country, and California Republicans are different,” said Chad Mayes, the Assembly GOP leader. “The truth is, there are a large number of California Republican constituents who believe that we have to do something about climate change.”
Mayes, 40, the son of a preacher, has had a fast rise in Sacramento, where he became the GOP leader during his first term. He has tried to put a fresh face on the party, steering clear of President Donald Trump, who is unpopular in California, and looking to engage — from a conservative perspective — on issues such as climate and poverty that often are seen as Democratic priorities.
Mayes said he began working with Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration and Democratic leaders when a dozen GOP Assembly members expressed interest in it. They were concerned that a California law enacted last year — which requires the state to meet aggressive goals for carbon reduction — would lead to much more costly regulations if cap-and-trade were allowed to expire.
But the eight Republicans who jumped on board are now seeing backlash from constituents who are frustrated they engaged on a policy that many in the party view as a stealth tax hike.
“A lot of conservative activists and donors work hard to elect our Republican legislators with the expectation that they’re going to hold the line against tax increases,” said Jon Fleishman, former executive director of the state Republican Party. “I feel taken advantage of.”
Enough Republicans voted for the cap-and-trade bill that some vulnerable Democrats were able to abstain or vote against the measure, said Fleishman, who runs a conservative blog. That could help them keep their seats in swing districts.
They also got pressure from Washington. Four Republicans in California’s congressional delegation — including Kevin McCarthy, the U.S. House majority leader — wrote a letter to their GOP counterparts in Sacramento last week, urging them not to vote for cap and trade.
Assemblyman Marc Steinorth, a Republican from a swing district in Southern California who voted for the bill, said he received more than 60 calls on his cellphone Tuesday about cap-and-trade. He shared the number on his Facebook page. He said he thinks much of the backlash is in response to misleading criticism of the bill on conservative talk radio and blogs.
The GOP lawmakers joined most Democrats on Monday night to approve a bill that keeps California’s cap-andtrade program alive for another decade. The 5-year-old program, which was set to expire in 2020, puts a cap on carbon emissions that has reduced each year. Businesses such as oil refiners, cement producers and food processors must obtain permits for each ton of carbon they emit.
Republicans have a long history with cap-and-trade, which was developed through legislation signed in 2006 by thenGov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican. It was conceived as a market-based approach to reducing greenhouse gases, giving businesses to flexibility to figure out on their own how to reduce their carbon footprint or to choose not to, albeit at a price.
“I hope Republicans around the country can learn from the example of Assemblyman Mayes and his fellow Republicans that we can fight for free market policies to clean up our environment for our children at the same time we fight for a booming economy,” Schwarzenegger wrote on Facebook on Monday night.
To win over Republicans, Democrats agreed to continue a series of expiring tax breaks and repeal a controversial fireprotection fee paid by rural landowners.