SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — Despite rising concerns about crime and inflation plus a rash of turnover within the Legislature, two of California’s leading lawmakers said Wednesday they are confident Democrats will continue to prosper and dominate politics in the Golden State.
While a pair of recent statewide polls revealed California voters are increasingly worried about the state’s failure to bring people off the streets or slow skyrocketing costs of living, the leaders of the state Senate and Assembly believe Democrats have a sturdy platform to campaign on in the fall.
“We have a lot that we can run on,” said Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon. “The voters continue to return our supermajorities; I think we’ll do well in November."
Rendon’s prediction came during an hour-long discussion with the Sacramento Press Club where he and state Senate President Toni Atkins were asked about a survey released this week which found slipping support for Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom.
According to the Berkeley IGS Poll, 48% of voters approve of Newsom’s performance, a steep decline from 64% the institute found in late 2020. In addition, just 36% said California is moving in the right direction while 65% believe crime is increasing in their neighborhoods.
The poll comes as Republicans across the country are promising to make crime and inflation focal points of state and congressional races.
Rising homelessness and levels of economic disparity remain problematic yet Rendon pointed to actions state Democrats have taken in recent years to stem the tide, such as passing stimulus relief and tax credits for low-income residents during the pandemic. He says those efforts will override the noise from the GOP and have a lasting impact with Californians at the ballot box.
As for crime, Rendon said it was critical for lawmakers to avoid mistakes made decades ago and ignore pressure to swiftly enact stronger criminal penalties amid the ongoing uproar. So far this year, a collection of bills have been introduced that would walk-back a major criminal justice reform package known as Proposition 47 passed by voters in 2016.
“We can’t just jail our way out of crime, we tried that for a generation and we learned our lesson,” said Rendon, D-Lakewood.
State Senate President Atkins echoed Rendon’s stance and argued it was important for the state to consider long-term solutions and not attempt quick fixes in an election year. She said state Senate Democrats might propose additional funding in the upcoming budget to assist local crime fighting operations.
“Our constituents want us to solve the issue of crime, I’m not sure they think we should lock everybody up,” added Atkins, D- San Diego. “Voters supported Proposition 47 significantly.”
Democrats currently hold all statewide offices as well as supermajorities in both chambers, but appointments and the recently completed redistricting process have created a bevy of vacancies heading into the June primaries and November general election.
There are currently five empty seats in the Assembly and over a dozen others have already announced they won’t seek reelection. Reshuffling is underway in the state Senate also as several members are voluntary departing or coming up against term limits.
Atkins attributed the unusual amount of turnover to people seeking higher political office, such as state Sen. Sydney Kamlager who is running for Congress in a Los Angeles district, or state Sen. Connie Leyva who is leaving Sacramento to spend more time with her family in Southern California. Rendon noted others are leaving for better jobs, like former Assemblyman Rob Bonta who was appointed to California Attorney General or ex-Assemblyman Ed Chau who accepted a spot on the Los Angeles Superior Court bench.
The recent exodus doesn’t portray a lack of leadership and represents a valuable chance for the majority party to solidify the next generation of Assemblymembers, says Rendon: “It’s exciting and it helps to add new energy to our house.”
The question-and-answer session touched on other topics including potential changes to the state’s recall format and another failed attempt to create a single-payer health care bill.
Both leaders support changing the 110-year-old statewide recall framework, saying the failed 2021 recall of Gov. Newsom was a “costly waste of time.” Atkins said lawmakers are closely watching public polling on the issue and noted a special committee is working on potential recall tweaks.
After California’s push to create the country’s first single-payer health care system dissolved quietly last month, Rendon said he was disappointed the bill’s author didn’t bring the item up for a floor vote. On Wednesday he clarified his comments and applauded San Jose Assemblyman Ash Kalra, who has taken immense heat from progressives for stashing the bill.
Asked why he didn’t press harder for a floor vote, Rendon said the votes just simply weren’t there, nor could he force Kalra to act.
“I helped him for 18 months,” said Rendon. “Mr. Kalra did push the conversation further than it’s been pushed in this state before.”
Atkins capped the conversation by detailing some of her priorities for the next state budget which must be approved by June 15. She says additional money for fighting climate change, the drought and supporting abortion clinics will highlight the state Senate’s list of demands for Newsom.
“I have to say personally from my experience abortion access, and that’s going to be a huge issue for the women’s caucus,” said Atkins.
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