Caucus Collision: CA Assembly Factions Taking Shape For New Session

Democrats have a supermajority in Sacramento, having won or leading in 58 of the Assembly’s 80 districts and could hold as many as 60 or 61 seats after all the ballots are counted.

But that far from guarantees legislative wins when you consider the factions taking shape.

Three distinct caucuses have created large blocs of votes which will no doubt fight for the direction of California and their respective groups.

The Caucuses

The Conservative caucus has 24 members and is led by Marie Waldron. This is a group that stands for making California more affordable, growing the economy and reducing onerous regulations

The Progressive caucus has 25 members and is led by Reginald Byron Jones-Sawyer Sr. This group serves as a bit of a counterweight to the centrist, business-minded Democrats who have had a critical bloc of votes on tax increases and environmental regulations.

The Moderate caucus or New Dems, has 9 core members but can climb to 24 depending on the issue. The caucus is led by Tom Daly. This group thinks fiscal responsibility first, making decisions based on the financial stability of California. This caucus is not taxpayer funded unlike the other caucuses.

Each caucus has leadership committed to a) making sure their district constituents are heard, and b) ensuring their groups are hardened for the biggest policy debates in Sacramento.

Working Together

So, how will these coalitions come together?

At the IVP conference in Hawaii, I sat down with Progressive convener Reginald Byron Jones-Sawyer, Sr. and Moderate Caucus leader Tom Daly.

The conversation unexpectedly revealed a spirit of cooperation and consideration for the other point-of- view, a far cry from the divisiveness we normally see in our politics today.

We discussed a number of critical issues that Governor-elect Gavin Newsom will no doubt be considering. Here’s the highlights from our discussions:

Single-Payer Healthcare Debate

Democrat support for a single-payer healthcare system run by the state is nearly unanimous.  Governor- elect Gavin Newsom has certainly hinted that it will be a priority for his administration, but how to pay for it? Conservative estimates have the cost at 20% of the state’s economy.

Interestingly, as Progressive caucus convener Reginald Byron Jones-Sawyer Sr. noted, “look at who Gavin is bringing into his administration, that will give you a clue as to how the state is going to pay for this.”

Here’s what the leaders of the progressive and moderate caucuses think of the single-payer issue:

Moderate Caucus

Leader Tom Daly: “I think single-payer in California is, the real major votes are a couple years away. I don’t think it’s going to come up in 2019. They have to figure out how to pay for it, I don’t think it’ll happen fast. You don’t want to stumble through single-payer, make it up as you go. I think Newsom is committed to doing something but still a lot of unknowns, and if you’re going to use federal money, you have to step carefully.”

I think single-payer in California is, the real major votes are a couple years away. I don't think it's going to come up in 2019. They have to figure out how to pay for it, I don't think it'll happen fast.
Assemblyman Tom Daly, Moderate Caucus Convener

Daly emphasized the need for fiscal responsibility: “We start with the fiscal. Where’s the money coming from. Mod caucus will focus hard on the money, on the fiscal implications, the budgetary commitments and what happens if we launch and there’s a recession, the state budget shrinks, that’s a concern, we want to make sure the money’s in place and in place for awhile.”

Progressive Caucus

Convener Reginald Byron Jones-Sawyer Sr.: “Look at the staff choices the governor-elect has made. Some have connections to Washington D.C., we need a lot of money from Washington to make this happen for single-payer to be successful, and so that’s part of the hiring strategy with the Clinton people. So when we take back the presidency, we can start to fund single-payer in 2020 and beyond. Right now let’s craft what it will look like then go to the federal government to augment the money.”

Byron Jones-Sawyer Sr.talks about his caucus will focus on the policy: “Our concern with single-payer will be focused on policy. Pre-existing conditions, the cost of prescription medicine, yes we’re concerned about being able to pay for it, but we also want to make sure it’s a solid package that doesn’t hurt the poor and doesn’t leave people out. In some ways it’s a good compromise between the caucuses.”

New Tax Increase?

The Repeal of the Gas Tax was a huge point of contention in the November General election, and may have been the catalyst for the blue wave California experienced.

However, there might be a growing consensus, certainly with moderates in California, that any new tax proposal proffered by the Governor Elect will be met with considerable opposition.

Moderate Caucus

Leader Tom Daly: “One big question for Gavin is he going to talk about any new tax increases? Is he going to propose that or rely on a strong economy? Of the 55 dems, 54 voted yes on the gas tax. But, my entire county in Southern California voted to repeal the gas tax, so I’m sensitive to any new general purpose tax. In fact, I will likely vote no for any general tax increase. Other core mods have volunteered they feel the same way.”

Progressive Caucus

Convener Reginald Byron Jones-Sawyer Sr.: “I think if he does it smart, we can get it done. When Jerry Brown tried to raise taxes he put it in a proposition, let the voters vote for it. That way he included the public in it. The initiative process works when you allow every Californian to make the decision on whether you want to raise their taxes.”

Privacy Fight

The California Consumer Privacy Act was an initiative that had qualified for the November ballot.

A last-minute negotiation by the legislature meant the initiative, signed by more than 600,000 Californians wouldn’t be on the ballot, and instead, a legislative bill, unanimously approved by both the Senate and Assembly, would take it’s place.

Now, the conversation has moved to Washington D.C., where the question of how the California bill might overlay with a federal privacy law is in question. Exactly how will the two intersect, and will one supersede the other? Here’s what the caucus leaders think on privacy:

Moderate Caucus

Leader Tom Daly: “We were ok with it because the initiative was so poorly crafted and would have caused chaos in our state. The reason the legislature got involved was to prevent a very emotional vote about to happen. There was an alternative bill and we preferred that, I think all the mods voted for it. This issue still needs a lot of work, but we did the right thing.”

Progressive Caucus

Convener Reginald Byron Jones-Sawyer Sr.: “The way we looked at that bill as legislators, this was an opportunity for us to do our jobs, we saw something that was poorly crafted, and we stepped in and stepped up, and brought forward a solution, working collaboratively on both sides. Which, frankly is very unique. Both sides came together.”

they're going to put in everything they want in the pot, sometimes you shouldn't have everything in the pot, but when you draft it in the legislature with both sides pushing and pulling, I think you get a better soup.
Progressive Caucus Convener Reginald Byron Jones-Sawyer Sr.

Byron Jones-Sawyer Sr. continued:“That’s the only problem with the initiative process, when it comes from the outside, one side doing it, they’re going to put in everything they want in the pot, sometimes you shouldn’t have everything in the pot, but when you draft it in the legislature with both sides pushing and pulling, I think you get a better soup.”

Final Thoughts on Cooperation

Finally, I asked Tom and Reggie what each liked and disliked about the other caucus, and the importance of working together to make California a better state:

Moderate Caucus

Leader Tom Daly on why he likes the Progressive Caucus: “I respect their passion and heart for the poor. I like their passion for reform, I’m a reformer, but I come at it always from a budget standpoint. Gray Davis was recalled over financial issues, the budget got away from him. ”

The California state budget can get out of whack in a week, so I think the progressive caucus needs to think in 3-4-5 year time frames not just THIS year.
Assemblyman Tom Daly, Moderate Caucus Convener

What Daly dislikes about the Progressive Caucus: “Not being careful about the Democrat brand on fiscal issues. I care so much about public education, but I want to make sure we can afford it. The California state budget can get out of whack in a week, so I think the progressive caucus needs to think in 3-4-5 year time frames not just THIS year.”

Progressive Caucus

Convener Reginald Byron Jones-Sawyer Sr. on what he dislikes about Moderate Caucus: “They’re not sometimes understanding how this impacts poor people, on people that cannot defend themselves. You can look at something on a fiscal basis and make a straight business decision which cuts blood and bone. There’s ways to get around that where you don’t hurt people, and sometimes the mods aren’t thinking about that.”

You can look at something on a fiscal basis and make a straight business decision which cuts blood and bone. There's ways to get around that where you don't hurt people, and sometimes the mods aren't thinking about that.
Assemblyman Reginald Byron Jones-Sawyer Sr., Progressive Caucus Convener

Convener Reginald Byron Jones-Sawyer Sr. on what he likes about Moderate Caucus: “This is where we can work together. Someone in the mod caucus will say, ‘the DMV is broken’ and we’ll say YES! and we agree with that, some agencies are broken, some agencies do need to be more efficient, bring technology in, and I like that they bring that up, we can do a lot together if we come together.”

One thing is certain,  41 votes are needed in the Assembly to pass a budget in Sacramento, so the progressives alone can’t do it, nor can the mods, so it will be those in the middle of the Assembly who make the difference. Speaker Anthony Rendon will certainly have his hands full aligning these factions for the new session.