Reporter's Notebook: Bill-o-Rama!

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California's state legislators have gone home, leaving in their wake hundreds of bills either ratified or rejected. They have also, for the time being, shut down their interparty warfare operations... which gives us a moment to open up a raft of questions about why things played out the way they did these last few weeks.

Which begs a cleaning out of the Reporter's Notebook for the 2011 legislative session, and the bills that drove much of the narrative of the final days.

Brown's Tax Troubles: No one ever thought that Governor Jerry Brown's jobs/tax credits proposal was going to sail easily through the Legislature, including Brown. Passage, if it happened, was going to be by the slimmest of margins, and the governor's eleventh hour news conference, announcing a half deal, was proof that he was trying every tactic... from public prodding to private cajoling.

But just minutes before the end of session, the Senate failed to line up behind the underpinning of the governor's plan, the $1 billion tightening of a corporate business tax break. And while the vote tally makes clear the dearth of Republican support -- as in zero in the upper house -- so, too, was the softness of support among Democratic senators. Even several who supported the governor lamented in floor speeches the last minute nature of the plan (both the tightening of this tax break and the opening of new tax breaks for small businesses and certain taxpayers). Two Dems abstained from voting -- state Sens. Ron Calderon (D-Montebello) and Rod Wright (D-Inglewood). And one, state Sen. Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana), actually voted no.

That may help explain why Brown's accusatory statement issued after the vote failed to draw a partisan line. But clearly, Republican legislators and their stance on taxes have vexed the governor since he took office in January. Even when he tried to divide and conquer on the tax issue -- aligning small business owners with him and ostensibly opposed to the interests of big business -- Brown could not break through. In fact, perhaps the most interesting item reported in the wake of Friday's votes comes in Monday's column by Los Angeles Times George Skelton, with word that Brown's failure to win over anti-tax advocate Jon Coupal may have bolstered GOP opposition.

Coupal is a veteran Capitol insider. And the quote that stands out, it seemed, is the one that offers a stark lesson in how politics works: Coupal says "there was no relief for our taxpayers." (Emphasis is mine.) His organization is all about homeowners, and Coupal didn't see any help for them. Fair to say, of course, that other taxpayers -- millions, in fact -- who do not own homes might have indeed seen relief.

"I'm Just A Bill, Sittin' On..." While Brown's tax/jobs package didn't make it out of the Capitol's second floor chambers and down to his corner office, hundreds of other bills did. The governor now has until October 9 to act on those bills. Every Capitol reporter has his or her list of bills to watch; I've taken the step of putting mine in an online PDF. I'd be happy to hear your thoughts, in either the comments section or by email, of ones I should add to the list. This is also the list I've shared with my KQED colleagues, as I may be taking a few extra days off with session now complete.

Some of these involve particular debates or fights. But clearly a big thing to watch for is how Governor Brown handles bills with a very sharp labor-vs-business drama. The governor famously once said that he subscribes to the "canoe theory" of politics: paddle a little left, then paddle a little right, stay somewhere in the middle. But that's easier to do when canoeing in a pond, rather than the river rapids of politics circa 2011.

A "General Election," Generally Speaking: One of those bills being watched, which I wrote about in detail Friday night, is the legislation to stop putting initiatives on June statewide ballots. But political calculations aside, the crux of the issue in SB 202 (Hancock) is what was intended by the drafters of Article 2, Section 8(c) of the California Constitution. You don't know that section by heart, you say? Allow me...

The Secretary of State shall then submit the [initiative] measure at the next general election held at least 131 days after it qualifies or at any special statewide election held prior to that general election.

And therein lies the conundrum: what's a "general election," and what should it be? Republicans noted in their floor debate that no less an expert than (then) Secretary of State Jerry Brown in 1971 and 1972 urged a broad reading of the question, and subsequently pushed a major political reform initiative on the June 1974 ballot en route to winning his first term as governor.

But a Friday evening analysis from the Senate Appropriations Committee offers a few other fun historical footnotes to this question.

Most noteworthy is a judicial musing on the legitimacy of June initiative measures by Governor Brown's most famous -- or infamous -- judicial appointment. In 1982, California Supreme Court Chief Justice Rose Bird wrote (in a case related to an initiative's right to be on the ballot) the following: "The constitutionality of submitting an initiative to the voters at a June primary election would appear to be an open question."

Bird's suggestion that the courts have never weighed in may be prophetic should Brown choose to sign SB 202 into law.

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About John Myers

John Myers is senior editor of KQED's new multimedia California Politics & Government Desk.  He has covered California politics for most of the past two decades -- serving previously as Sacramento bureau chief for KQED News and, most recently, as political editor for KXTV News10 (ABC) in Sacramento. He moderated the only gubernatorial debate of 2014, and was named one of the nation's top statehouse reporters by The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @johnmyers.
  • hillary_b

    The podcast is missed dearly…any word on when we might get it back?

  • Vincent

    That’s for promoting your blog on the forum segment this morning! I’m added this blog to my daily read, and I wish I had found it earlier. Keep up the great reporting.

  • John Myers

    Hillary: Yours is one of several recent questions about the Capital Notes podcast.

    Very flattered that so many folks miss it. We started the hiatus of the weekly smart-or-smart-alecky podcast during the summer legislative recess– just wasn’t much to talk about back then when it came to CA politics. But then there was my vacation, an impossible schedule nut to crack when it came to the end-of-session (which was more than worthy of a podcast), and… well… here we are.

    I can tell you that we’ll try to resuscitate the little sucker as soon as possible. Thank you for hanging on!


  • Jeff Buckingham

    I also dearly miss the podcast and would welcome it back when you and Anthony or you and “the girls” are able to do it.

  • Vincent

    In the mean time, if we want to find out if and when the governor signs, vetoes, or passes without signing any of these measures, do we go to the SoS website, or where? And can you please when you come back from vacation blog about what gov Brown did and didn’t sign?

  • John Myers

    Vincent: I’ll likely keep tweeting through my hiatus. Even today, I tweeted a list of bill signings & vetoes. Check it out at