"Mod Squad" kills Dem enviro bills

By Shane Goldmacher

On the last day of session, bill after environmental bill came up for a vote
on the Assembly floor. And bill after bill was defeated as a group of
self-styled moderate Democrats--known as the 'Mod Squad'--refused to support
legislation authored by their fellow Democrats.

Everything from mapping out naturally occurring asbestos to enhanced
penalties for severe air polluters failed passage, as the Mod Squad of
business-friendly Democrats joined a united Republican caucus to stymie the
expansion of environmental protections.

As session came to a close, five bills that several environment groups
identified as top priorities died on the Assembly floor with united
Republican opposition and a handful of abstaining or no-voting Democrats.
The bills were killed after five Democrats â€"Joe Canciamilla of Pittsburg,
Nicole Parra of Hanford, Gloria Negrete McLeod of Chino, Ron Calderon of
Montebello, and Barbara Matthews of Tracy â€" cast "no" votes on each of the
bills, angering fellow Democrats in the process.

"This is a product of the Moderate Caucus deciding, contrary to the interest
of many of their constituents, to side with the oil companies," said Sen.
Deborah Ortiz, D-Sacramento, describing the vote on SB 109.

The so-called Moderate Caucus was first organized as a campaign finance
committee in 1998 by then-Assemblyman (and now Congressman) Dennis Cardoza,
who wanted to raise corporate money for Democrats that traditionally had
flowed to Republicans. But only in the last couple of years has the Mod
Squad flexed their political muscle. The caucus currently has fifteen
members, 10 of which are Latino, with Assemblymen Juan Vargas, D-San Diego,
and Canciamilla serving as "co-conveners."

In June 2004, the Moderate Caucus circulated its first ever "action alert"
listing a dozen bills--sponsored by fellow Democrats--to be targeted for
defeat. Circulated only to other moderate members, the list angered both the
Democratic leadership and the environmental lobby. Such "action alerts" are
now common for the Mod Squad, which meets at least once a month, and
sometimes more than once a day toward the end of session.

"We distribute reminders to our members of bills we have discussed…We do an
internal analysis. And then we discuss the bills. I know that might sound
unique to some people--we talk about policy in detail," said Canciamilla, who
was removed as chair of the Water, Parks and Wildlife committee by Speaker
Fabian Nuñez last year.

"The ‘Mod Squad’ is the single greatest impediment to progressive
environmental legislation in Sacramento," wrote the California League of
Conservation Voters in their annual legislative scorecard last year. "Sure,
they cast the easy votes, but when every friend is needed on strong
environmental legislation, the Mod Squad is usually missing in action or an
enemy combatant."

Pete Price, a lobbyist with the League was not any more pleased with the
results this year: "All I know is these are Democrats who are much less
likely to support good environmental bills and that happened again this

On August 30, the CLCV distributed a memo to legislators listing twenty-nine
bills "of [the] greatest importance to CLCV and other environmental
organizations". Thirteen never made it out of the Legislature, a
surprisingly low percentage when Democrats hold solid majorities in both

Bill Magavern, a senior representative for Sierra Club California, says that
the moderate Democrats are of increased importance because Republicans are
united in opposition to environmental legislation.

"We need to get all our votes from the Democratic caucus, including the
business Democrats who are taking lots of money from corporate polluters,"
said Magavern.

Democrats hold 47 seats in the Assembly, and need 41 votes to pass any
legislation. With more than a dozen members of the loosely organized Mod
Squad, every environmental bill--and indeed every bill lacking Republican
support--must garner some moderate support. In contrast, in the 40-member
Senate, Democrats occupy 25 seats, with only two, maybe three, moderates
among them.

"They are not monolithic," adds Magavern. "You look at those that define
themselves as moderate Democrats individually, from Assemblyman Joe Nation,
who has a nearly perfect [environmental] record to Assemblywoman Barbara
Matthews, who votes more like a Republican."

While the Mod Squad flexed its muscle at the end of session, more
environmental legislation saw its demise on the Assembly floor earlier this
year. Among those bills backed by environmental groups but never made it off
the Assembly floor were a trio of bills--AB 289, AB 1360, and AB 1430--which
would have limited the trading of pollution credits between mobile (i.e.
cars) and stationary (i.e. manufacturing plants) sources.

Some environmental legislation never even makes it to a floor vote. Partisan
politicking doomed SB 1, the "million solar roofs" initiative pushed by Gov.
Schwarzenegger. And other bills, like Sen. Christine Kehoe’s SB 757, which
would have required that state agencies focus on alternative fuels to reduce
petroleum demand, are never brought to a vote on the Assembly floor because
the authors do not have Mod Squad support. Canciamilla says that many of the
Mod Squad’s complaints could be addressed in policy committees.

"The committees are slanted much further to the left, so it is very
difficult to, not necessarily to stop, but to fix environmental legislation
in committee. There is no time taken, no serious policy debate. So we are
left to the floor."

See the article on Capitol Weekly website

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