California Gov. Jerry “Moonbeam” Brown gleefully signed a bill extending the state’s Pollution Permit Extortion Scheme Tuesday in San Francisco. The program was set to expire in 2020, but now, thanks to GOP Assembly Caucus Chair Chad Mayes and his fellow sellouts who collaborated with the majority to create the bill, it’s been extended through 2031 with a bulletproof majority.
When the bill passed July 18 it became abundantly clear to California Republicans that the biggest obstacle to their success is not Kevin de Leon, Jerry Brown, and their legislative supermajority - it is a good part of the CAGOP leadership, who are willing to vote for legislation that goes against core GOP principles in exchange for “goodies,” and their silent enablers in the state party.
Mayes penned an op-ed in the Sacramento Bee defending his actions, essentially saying that conservatives who didn’t understand that what he did was a positive were stupid and just need to be quiet while he and his buddies make the decisions. He truly believes he negotiated a good deal. He even participated in a presser with his handlers to celebrate the bill’s passage.
Wrong. You negotiated a horrible deal that will keep the GOP in the super minority for years to come, and you did it on the backs of hard-working, middle class Californians.
Without getting into the nuts and bolts of the bill itself (because that’s irrelevant to this discussion), let’s take a look at just how bad this deal is.
Here’s a look at the “concessions” won by Mayes, et al.
· Assembly Constitutional Amendment - Democrats agreed to place a constitutional amendment on the 2018 ballot which would require a one-time supermajority vote to authorize spending of funds collected through the cap and trade program. Already there are differing opinions among legislators about exactly how that would work, so even if the measure is approved by the voters (which undoubtedly liberal groups will work to defeat), the GOP still has a battle on their hands. Some are arguing that this amendment is a way to derail Moonbeam’s high speed rail program, which is a stretch.
· Industry tax breaks - Targeted tax breaks were inserted to get some business groups on board, but they don’t take effect immediately. Probably a better tax break would be, um, working to ensure that the current program wasn’t extended? Who’s to say Dems won’t pass other taxes on the same businesses to make up for what they lost?
· Rural fire tax repealed - Dems agreed to a provision repealing a controversial rural fire tax the state was already being sued over.
Gee, thanks, you guys really strong-armed Jerry, Anthony, and Kev. Did it ever occur to you to just do nothing legislatively and work to ensure that the current program ended when it’s supposed to end?
The Legislative Analyst’s office predicts that prices at the pump could go up 24 to 73 cents a gallon by 2031. That’s in addition to the huge gas tax hike lawmakers ALREADY approved this session. And, this extension preserves funding for the massively unpopular dollar-burning bullet train.
But it gets worse.
What did Mayes, et al, GIVE in exchange for that?
· Two-thirds majority - Since this passed with a 2/3 majority in each chamber, it is safe from further legal challenges saying it amounts to a tax. New taxes must be passed with a 2/3 majority, which the original bill did not have. The state faced a legal challenge from the Chamber of Commerce and others, who argued it was a de facto tax. Ultimately the state Court of Appeals ruled in the government’s favor, and the state Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal. Now that issue is moot.
· Allow vulnerable Dems to vote no or not show up - Because seven GOP Assembly members voted for the bill, a few Dems were able to vote no, and one member in a purple district had an “approved absence” that had allegedly been scheduled in January. Unless Assemblymembers are very ill, they don’t miss this particular week in Sacramento since it’s the last week before an extended break. Since I haven’t seen any documentation proving that Asm. Irwin’s plans were immovable, I’m highly doubting it. Besides, Gov. Brown was on record saying this was the most important vote of their lives. Do you think he wouldn’t call Irwin back from whatever pre-planned family commitment she had if he needed the vote?
· Allow Dems to co-opt conservative talking points - Immediately after the July 17 vote, Asm. Sharon Quirk-Silva, who represents an area in Orange County where people are already extremely upset about the gas tax passed earlier in the session, touted her “no” vote as standing up for working families against higher taxes and regulation. She apparently doesn’t see the disconnect between her vote for the gas tax and against this, and she’s hoping her constituents don’t either.
· Money, time, and efforts of grassroots activists - Activists are particularly incensed that one member, Asm. Catharine Baker, voted for the bill. Baker's 2016 race was extremely close, and the state party diverted a huge amount of resources (both volunteer hours and money) to ensure her re-election, only to be betrayed.
Without the willing help of eight GOP members (one GOP Senator voted for the package), the Democrats would have been forced to have all of their members vote for this, and since one Dem seat is currently vacant (Asm. Jimmy Gomez was elected to fill the Congressional seat vacated by Xavier Becerra), that would have been a Herculean task.
As of this writing, Asm. Mayes still has his position as chair of the Assembly GOP Caucus, though the grassroots has been screaming for both his resignation from that position and from the Assembly altogether. (Or even kicked out of the party.) The others who voted with him are similarly unapologetic and unaffected. Why?
Because before the sun rose the day after the vote those members were already the beneficiaries of professionally produced video spots - funded by a PAC that suddenly came to life after 15 years of dormancy - positively spinning their vote, and because CA GOP leadership (with a few exceptions) are silent enablers of this behavior. In an utter failure of leadership, CA GOP Chair Jim Brulte has been silent, and the bulk of the power players are following suit.
These members know that they will be rewarded for their cowardice. The “swamp” that controls the purse strings in conservative politics in California is run by people who line each other’s pockets election cycle after election cycle. It’s a great gig, because you don’t even have to win to play - corporate money is funneled to the favored vendors. Candidates who will play along with what these PACs want will be the beneficiaries of independent expenditure committees which, while they are prohibited from coordinating with the campaigns, usually send out lots of mail - timed to arrive at the same time as absentee ballots - and sometimes pay for get-out-the-vote efforts.
It clearly pays to be a part of this swamp, and none of the beneficiaries (whether elected officials or power brokers whose livelihood depends on it) want to risk that to stand up for principle or for - wait for it - the people of California. You know, the people they’re supposedly serving.
A few courageous voices have stepped up. RNC National Committeewoman Harmeet Dhillon is attempting to have Mayes removed from his position but her efforts haven’t yet succeeded. Asm. Melissa Melendez resigned her position as Assistant Republican Leader after an attempt to oust Mayes failed. Mayes’ response can be summed up as, “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.” Mayes’ own county party has asked him to appear at their next meeting to explain his vote, or they’ll recommend his removal.
There’s been a massive internet outrage displayed by California conservatives toward these sellouts, but precious little action by people who have the power to change how the party’s run. To those people, I only have one thing to say. Silence is consent.
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