(CALMATTERS) – It isn’t even halfway through the legislative year, and three lofty progressive proposals have already been squashed — showcasing the sharp divide within California’s Democrat-dominated Legislature.
A bill to create single-payer health care? Tabled last week. A bill to ban corporations and “business entities” from contributing money to political candidates? Shot down Thursday in a rare Dem-on-Dem public takedown. And a proposal to create a wealth tax? It didn’t even get a hearing ahead of today’s deadline to progress out of its first committee.
The common denominator behind these proposals is their author Assemblymember Alex Lee, a 25-year-old Democratic socialist from San Jose who was endorsed by Bernie Sanders and lives with his mom. He became the state’s youngest lawmaker in more than 80 years when he was sworn into office in January. Lee, who connects with constituents via Minecraft livestreams and Instagram Live, told me he thought he would be “completely ostracized and alone” in the state Capitol for being “super young, super progressive.” Though he said his Democratic colleagues have been “very receptive” to his ideas, the evidence so far suggests otherwise.
Lee was dealt a rare public rebuke from a fellow Democrat Thursday on his bill to ban corporate donations to political candidates. Assemblymember Marc Berman, chair of the elections committee, castigated Lee’s bill as one that “deceives the public,” is “very misleading” and “creates loopholes so big you could drive an armored truck through them.” He also suggested Lee hadn’t read past committee analyses that would have helped him avoid “flaws.”
- Lee: “Saying I didn’t do my homework, ‘deceiving,’ is not fair to say. … Everything everyone else said was very valid, but I feel like those kind of personal things were a quite unfair characterization.”
Lee’s wealth tax bill didn’t even receive a hearing, the result of a controversial Assembly rule that allows committee chairs to essentially kill legislation by not bringing it forward for debate. Lee told me he would support abolishing the rule, a point echoed by Assemblymember James Gallagher, a Yuba City Republican infuriated that his wildfire prevention bill didn’t get a hearing. Lee said the rule “hurts the democratic process”; Gallagher called it “undemocratic.”
- Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon: “I’ve empowered chairs to make decisions regarding bills in their committees, as they are policy leaders for their respective issue areas.”
With three setbacks in a row, Lee admitted the legislative process is “very exhausting and oftentimes demoralizing,” but said he won’t stop “trying again and again and again.”
- Lee: The Legislature’s Democratic supermajority is “going to come to a reckoning point where it’s like, all right, how much do we value political power for political power’s sake versus actually using it to do good for people?”