Moderate Democrats -- Rising to the Top

In the wake of the Governor’s optimistic and triumphant State of the State, some critics may be fearing the worst.  As reported above, the Governor’s announcement of a balanced budget and a $4 billion surplus this month with a super-majority Legislature does cause a little concern for Republicans and political pundits alike.  Historically, an announcement of surplus money results in the Democratic party (and their allies) chomping at the bit to spend the money to restore cuts and benefits.  Although the Governor and Democratic leadership may claim to be taking a cautious approach, it would be safe to assume if they could have it their way, the money would be spent.  Fortunately, there is a backstop to flagrant tax increases and immediate spending and it’s not Republicans—it is the moderate Democrats.

Unlike past years, the most important members of the California Legislature this year may not be the two Democratic leaders - despite the two-thirds supermajorities they will recognize in each chamber later this year.  And it almost certainly won't be the Republicans, or the moderate Republicans that have been counted on for votes in years past.  The leverage in this legislative session may well lie with a newly-critical voting bloc: moderate Democrats.

Many of those moderate Democrats are new to Sacramento and edged out more liberal Democrats with help from Republican-friendly groups like the California Chamber of Commerce. The new freshmen members are far from alone.  The Senate in particular already has several moderate Democrats - more than enough to block a two-thirds vote or veto attempt if the often business-friendly Governor Brown rejects a measure passed by the more liberal Legislature. Many analysts believe the "swing-vote" moderate Democrats will have leverage any time a supermajority bill comes up.  And expect to see tension in the Democratic caucus on the budget, taxes and a proposed overhaul of California's major environmental law.

Also on Thursday, at a meeting of the Institute for Government Affairs, Assemblyman Henry Perea (D-Fresno), leader of the Assembly moderate Democrats, spoke about the role of this key group in the upcoming year. Perea said the key this year will be finding a balance between the two extremes.  He stated that his moderate Democrats have no interest in just saying “no” to everything—instead, they want to be the bridge to compromise.  Perea indicated three of his priorities this year will be Cap & Trade, Energy efficiency standards and the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, specifically the hiring of medical support staff to assist in underserved areas.  He stated that these three issues are most important to him and his members because many of them represent similar districts—those with double digit unemployment and often rural areas.   Perea said there is much to be done this year and he knows leadership’s appetite for new taxes and spending new revenue money will be strong.  He said his group will do their best to look at each proposal separately and thoroughly before making any decisions on how to vote.  There may well be taxes and spending they support, but hope to find a middle ground and make decisions that reflect the best interests of their districts.  Lastly, Perea said his group will soon begin a series of “brown bag” lunches, where interests can come speak to his group on their specific issues.