Every winter, liberal Democrats in the state legislature propose a bevy of bills designed to help level the economic playing field and protect our environment. And every spring brings new hope that the current year will be different. After all, California is a deep blue state, and Democrats enjoy overwhelming majorities in both the state Assembly and Senate. But then, when June rolls around, these hopes are usually dashed. And this year wasn't any different, as centrist Democrats again sided with Republicans to kill liberal legislation.
These centrists, in other words, are Democrats In Name Only (DINOs). They register as Democrats, but often side with Big Business, and when faced with important legislation that's backed by most Democratic voters, they either join with Republicans or refuse to vote at all, thereby killing the bills because they lack a majority of votes needed to move forward.
In 2014, for example, the DINOs helped torpedo nearly two-thirds of the bills opposed by the California Chamber of Commerce, an extremely influential, pro-Big Business lobbying group — and the legislative year is not yet over. According to an analysis by the Sacramento Bee, the chamber targeted 27 pieces of legislation this year as being alleged "job killers" because they sought to raise taxes on large corporations, strengthen workers' rights, protect the environment, or safeguard our food supply. And so far, the chamber has successfully snuffed out seventeen of them. Republicans, of course, opposed all of those bills, too, but the chamber couldn't have killed many in the Democrat-controlled legislature if it weren't for the DINOs.
Three of the highest profile pieces of progressive legislation — SB 1132, which would have enacted a moratorium on fracking; SB 1372, which sought to rein in excessive pay for CEOs; and SB 1381, which would have required labels on food that contains genetically modified organisms (GMOs) — died last week in the final days of the first session of the legislature, when bills must win majority votes from their houses of origin to move on. And DINOs were instrumental in killing all three.
Centrist Dems Lou Correa (Santa Ana), Cathleen Galgiani (Modesto), Ed Hernandez (West Covina), and Norma Torres (San Bernardino) all voted against SB 1132, as did the entire GOP delegation in the Senate. But that's not what killed SB 1132. Rather, it was because DINOs Marty Block (San Diego), Jerry Hill (San Mateo), Ben Hueso (Chula Vista), Ricardo Lara (Long Beach), and Richard Roth (Riverside) decided to not cast votes at all. The bill, as a result, received an 18-16 vote — three votes shy of the majority it needed to stay alive. SB 1132, which was supported overwhelmingly by liberals, would have placed a moratorium on fracking until the state can fully analyze its environmental impacts. Fracking has been linked to groundwater and air pollution and to earthquakes. Recent polls show that a supermajority of Californians — 68 percent — supports a moratorium on fracking.
Similarly, Block, Correa, Galgiani, Hill, and Roth, all voted against SB 1372, along with every Republican in the Senate. And then Torres refused to cast his ballot, thereby giving the bill a 19-17 vote, two shy of what it needed to move on. SB 1372 would have increased taxes on corporations that pay their CEOs excessively more than their average workers. The companies that lavish their CEOs with pay and bonuses in excess of four hundred times their average worker would pay the highest taxes. Polls have shown that a large majority of Americans — and a supermajority of Democrats — believe that corporate CEO pay is excessive, yet the DINOs voted to do nothing about it.
As for SB 1381, the GMO-labeling bill, Block, Galgiani, Hernandez, and Hill all vote "no," along with every Republican, while Correa and Roth refused to cast ballots. The bill, as a result, garnered a 19-16 vote — two votes shy of a majority. Nearly every environmental and consumer rights group in the state supported SB 1381. And in 2012, most Democratic voters cast ballots in favor of a proposed GMO-labeling law, Prop 37. (It was defeated because Republicans and centrists voted against it.)
To be sure, the fate of these bills also may have been impacted by the fact that three Democratic senators — Ron Calderon, Leland Yee, and Rod Wright — were suspended earlier this year for fraud and corruption scandals and so could not cast votes. However, both Calderon and Wright are centrists, and so may not have voted for the progressive bills. Moreover, even if they had received a majority of votes, there's no guarantee that our centrist governor, Jerry Brown, would have signed them into law.
Nonetheless, the Cal Chamber and Big Business weren't taking any chances. The chamber, which has a history of heavily financing centrist Dems, reported spending nearly $1 million on lobbying in Sacramento in just the first three months of this year (the chamber typically spends nearly $4 million a year on lobbying in California). And it wasn't alone. The Western States Petroleum Association, the industry trade group for oil and gas interests, spent $1.5 million on lobbying in Sacramento in the first three months of 2014. Its primary target was the anti-fracking bill SB 1132.
So what about the ten progressive bills that are still alive? If history is any indicator, DINOs will be counted on to help block those pieces of legislation from reaching the governor's desk as well, or at least water them down to the point where they are no longer effective, let alone progressive.