Leno, Migden and Sacramento madness

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Migden, Leno: Who's killing the bills?

By Tim Redmond
It’s been a wild few days in Sacramento.

On Thursday afternoon, the state Senate narrowly passed a terrible campaign finance bill that could strictly limit the ability of local governments to control political money. Although Common Cause and the League of Women Voters opposed it (as did San Francisco’s Ethics Commission director, John St. Croix) it had the support of the Democratic Party and had sailed through the Assembly, 77-0. On the Senate floor, Carole Midgen and Sheila Keuhl both made strong speeches against it – and almost, almost convinced enough of their colleagues to vote it down. Instead, it squeaked through 27-9 (needing two-thirds).

Migden at least tried. Good for her. Leland Yee voted the right way. But the arm-twisting by the party was too much.

And frankly, the opponents of the bill weren't exactly on their game: There was no opposition when the bill went through the Assembly, and when it came to the Senate floor, the good guys were noticably absent.

Meanwhile, Randy Shaw reports on BeyondChron that Migden is making sure some of Assemblymember Mark Leno’s key bills never get a vote on the Senate floor. The reason: Migden (and her ally, state Senate President Don Perata) don’t want Leno to have any legislative success to brag about next spring when he challenges Migden in the Democratic primary.

See, one of Migden’s central arguments is that she’s an effective legislator. Sure, she cuts deals, she compromises – but in the end, she gets things done. And pointing out that none of Leno’s bills for 2007 actually became law would be a powerful campaign theme.

Among the Leno bills held hostage: A measure that would limit toxic chemicals in household furniture (AB 709) and AB 1590, which would allow San Franciscans to vote to raise local car taxes to provide revenue for city services.

Migden’s office insists that Shaw has it wrong: Tracy Fairchild, communications director, told me: “The root cause of Assemblyman Leno's problems lies not with Senator Migden but rather with the entire Senate, whose bills met with unusually harsh treatment last week in the Assembly Appropriations Committee which he chairs. Rather than tell that truth, Mr. Leno has chosen to disparage Sen. Migden's reputation by blaming all his problems on her and that is simply not the case.”

But Leno has another take: “Eight of the nine bills by Carole Migden that came to my committee [Appropriations] made it out, and I will make sure that every one of her Senate bills will leave the Assembly floor.” Only five of Leno’s 13 bills went forward, even though the ones that were bottled up had little real opposition.
The one Midgen bill that Leno didn’t let out of committee, interestingly, was SB 11, which would have extended domestic partnership rights to unmarried opposite-sex couples. Leno says the $33 million price tag doomed it, but I think the real problem was that, while I supported the bill and think it’s a fine idea, there wasn’t any real visible upwelling of support for it.

Overall, the Assembly Appropriations Committee let 74 percent of Senate bills out; only 63 percent of Assembly bills made it out of the corresponding Senate committee.

Part of what’s going on here may be the natural tension between the houses, but I think that Perata is sending a message to Leno and his colleagues: Don’t you dare take on an incumbent senator, or your bills will be held hostage.

I suspect that if Migden doesn’t like this message (and she shouldn’t) she could tell Perata to back off, and Leno’s bills would move forward.