"Mod Squad" kills Dem enviro bills
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
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
identified as top priorities died on the Assembly floor
Republican opposition and a handful of abstaining or
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
committee in 1998 by then-Assemblyman (and now Congressman)
who wanted to raise corporate money for Democrats that
flowed to Republicans. But only in the last couple of years
has the Mod
Squad flexed their political muscle. The caucus currently
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
listing a dozen bills--sponsored by fellow Democrats--to be
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
sometimes more than once a day toward the end of session.
"We distribute reminders to our members of bills we have
discussedâ€¦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 NuÃ±ez last year.
"The â€˜Mod Squadâ€™ 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
environmental legislation, the Mod Squad is usually missing
in action or an
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
bills "of [the] greatest importance to CLCV and other
organizations". Thirteen never made it out of the
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
united in opposition to environmental legislation.
"We need to get all our votes from the Democratic caucus,
business Democrats who are taking lots of money from
Democrats hold 47 seats in the Assembly, and need 41 votes
to pass any
legislation. With more than a dozen members of the loosely
Squad, every environmental bill--and indeed every bill
support--must garner some moderate support. In contrast, in
Senate, Democrats occupy 25 seats, with only two, maybe
"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
Matthews, who votes more like a Republican."
While the Mod Squad flexed its muscle at the end of
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
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
Kehoeâ€™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 Squadâ€™s complaints could be
addressed in policy committees.
"The committees are slanted much further to the left, so it
difficult to, not necessarily to stop, but to fix
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