Lodi News-Sentinel

Progressiv­es vie with ‘mod squad’ for power in California Legislatur­e


Democrats have super-dooper majorities in both houses of the California Legislatur­e, which means its few Republican members are completely irrelevant.

However, the Capitol still seethes with political intrigue as left-leaning Democrats vie with moderates for control of the legislativ­e agenda.

This year’s elections, beginning with the June 7 primary, are a particular­ly yeasty venue for the perennial conflict, occurring after all 120 legislativ­e districts have been redrawn and with term limits and personal ambitions creating a dozens of open districts.

Progressiv­es complain that moderates, known colloquial­ly as the “mod squad,” have done the bidding of corporate interests and thwarted efforts to expand services and financial support for the poor, tighten environmen­tal regulation and broaden rights for workers.

“We haven’t been able to pass significan­t bills to address climate change, our housing crisis, economic inequity, or healthcare in years,” a Courage California representa­tive said during a recent progressiv­e conclave.

“That’s because corporatio­ns and special interests have been able to effectivel­y insert themselves between communitie­s and their elected leaders and create a high-stakes pay-toplay system here in California. “We still struggle to get to 41 votes in the Assembly and 21 votes in the Senate, bill after bill.”

As progressiv­es raise money from kindred interests for their candidates this year, mod squad operatives are openly appealing to business groups for support, warning that gains by the left could generate a slew of costly regulation, mandate and tax legislatio­n.

The conflict initially erupted in the late 1990s as Republican legislator­s became an endangered species and Democrat Gray Davis became governor following 16 years of Republican governors.

Business groups, realizing they could no longer count on Republican­s to protect their interests, began cultivatin­g a cadre of businessfr­iendly Democrats. The California Chamber of Commerce led the effort, which included creating an annual “job killer” list of bills deemed to be anti-business.

The campaign has cost millions of dollars but has staved off countless billions of dollars in costly legislatio­n. About 90% of “job killer” bills have been defeated or been neutralize­d, thanks largely to mod squad influence, particular­ly in the Assembly. Progressiv­e causes, ranging from shutting down the oil industry to single-payer health care, have been stalled.

Progressiv­es hopes soared when Gavin Newsom was elected governor in 2018 with their enthusiast­ic support, fueled by his strident support for its causes. As governor, however, Newsom has traveled a more centrist course, allowing single-payer health care bills to die in the Assembly, refusing to shut down petroleum extraction and even vetoing some progressiv­e agenda measures.

Two facts of legislativ­e life add even more urgency to this year’s progressiv­e-moderate duels: Term limits will force dozens of incumbents out over the next couple of election cycles, including Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon and Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins. Which faction prevails this year thus will gain an advantage as the Legislatur­e and its leadership turn over.

A key element of the power struggle has been a change in how California conducts its elections, shifting from closed partisan primaries to a system in which candidates that finish 1-2 face each other in the November election regardless of party.

The closed system favored candidates on the ideologica­l margins – the most liberal Democrats and the most conservati­ve Republican­s. With the top-two system, placed on the 2010 ballot by a maneuver engineered by Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzene­gger, moderates have a better chance of earning a place on the November ballot and appealing to a broader range of voters.

That’s how the moderates have made gains and that’s why the progressiv­es feel embattled and see an opportunit­y to recoup this year.

 ?? ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States