The "shadow presidency" of California Governor Jerry Brown scored a win Monday night as eight Republican legislators crossed the political aisle and voted with most Democrats to extend a key component of the "cap-and-trade" program that has literally shifted $4.42 billion from the private sector to the government since mid-2012.
While a lot of politicking went into rounding up the votes for the cap-and-trade extension among both political party caucuses in both chambers, it was clear that Governor Brown had enough political capital, along with a willingness to "strategically target" the spending of Cap-and-Trade tax dollars to woo Democrats.
So in the final days preceding a vote, much of the attention was focused on Republican legislators. Because it is a tax increase, the bill required a two-thirds vote to pass. Democrats have barely over two-thirds in either chamber and so, in theory, could have passed it without a solitary GOP vote. But Democrats were not 100 percent unified, and also at least one Democrat in the state Assembly was going to be absent this week on a long-planned family vacation, meaning at least one GOP vote would be needed in the lower house.
On the GOP side it was a David v. Goliath situation, with a small coalition of small business and taxpayer advocates, as well as GOP groups like the Orange County Lincoln Club. They were out-gunned and out-spent, up against many well-heeled interests, including the California Chamber of Commerce, the California Manufacturing and Technology Association, and others. (Big businesses can handle navigating a cap-and-trade system, and largely pass along the costs to consumers. The small- and medium-sized businesses suffer the most, and of course taxpayers in general.) Those billions and billions in taxes paid to the California Air Resources Board (CARB) drive up the costs of so many products - most notably gas and electricity prices: it is estimated that by the early 2020s, cape-and-trade will be adding over 70 cents to the price of a gallon of gasoline. In the end Goliath won, with more than enough Republicans voting for the extension.
Ultimately eight Republican legislators voted to extend the multi-billion dollar tax: State Senator Tom Berryhill (R-Stanislaus), and Assemblymembers Catherine Baker (R-Walnut Creek), Rocky Chavez (R-Oceanside), Jordan Cunningham (R-San Luis Obispo), Health Flora (R-Modesto), Devin Mathis (R-Visalia), Mark Steinorth (R-Rancho Cucamonga), and Chad Mayes (R-Yucca Valley), the latter being the Assembly Republican Leader.
While much attention will be paid to the "Crazy 8" (as they are already being called) Republicans who voted to extend this draconian program, it is significant to note that 34 GOP legislators voted against it, with a good number of them speaking out on the floors of their respective legislative chambers. Perhaps none spoke as eloquently as State Senator Andy Vidak (R-Hanford), who said, in part, "I represent the poorest district in the state. I cannot, in good conscience, vote for yet another bill that will raise gasoline and electricity rates on the poorest of the poor. Let's be honest, this is a tax - and a regressive one at that! Then where does the money go? It goes to rebates for rich folks who buy a Tesla. Billions go to the boondoggle that is high-speed rail, which is a gross polluter, now and for decades to come - again, off of the backs of the poor who currently live in energy poverty."
Interestingly, the political win for Assembly Democrats wasn't just in passing the cap-and-trade extension, but also the fact that so many Republicans voted for the bill that Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Paramount) was able to let three of his targeted members, who are occupying seats the GOP would like to pick back up, either not vote at all or vote no. A big strategic blunder for Assembly Republicans.
After the vote was held, despite the fact that over two-thirds of Assembly Republicans voted against the bill, a gleeful Assembly GOP Leader Chad Mayes spoke in a press conference with Governor Jerry Brown and Democratic legislative leaders as they celebrated the passage of a package of the legislation. Mayes could hardly contain himself as he touted that with this legislation "we lowered taxes, we reduced costs, we reduced regulations - and at the same time we are going to protect our environment."
You may ask how a two-thirds vote to raise taxes for this program for another decade could lower taxes, reduce costs and reduce regulations? Apparently Mayes and other Republicans justified their votes by imagining what it would be like if, in the absence of cap-and-trade, Democrats implemented a different and worse system. The "lowering" and "reducing" Mayes refers to are the imaginary savings achieved because the other, allegedly worse regimen of regulation, was averted.
Mayes went on to say: "We believe that markets are better than Soviet style-command and control. We believe that markets are better than the government coercing people into doing things they don't want to do...".
Apparently Mayes believes that when the government creates Soviet-style limits on resources but leaves people with the freedom to exist in a world of artificial scarcity on their own terms, that is not command and control. This is analogous to having a hundred people but food for only ten, and choosing which ten get the food, versus simply putting ten meals in the room and letting the hundred people figure it out themselves.
With the cap-and-trade vote now in the rear-view mirror, it remains to see what the political fallout will be. If 2009 is any guide, which was the last time a small group of six GOP legislators crossed party lines to vote for a massive tax increase, all six legislators ended up paying a steep political price. Both legislative leaders lost their leadership posts.
Either way, the California GOP has a unique messaging problem for next year, having provided support for a multi-billion dollar carbon emissions tax.
Jon Fleischman is a political strategist with Fleischman Consulting Group and the publisher of the FlashReport, a California political website. He is a former executive director of the Republican Party of California.