ONE REASON FOR PARTISAN GRIDLOCK
The Republican primary campaign in Ventura County's 37th Assembly District provides a classic illustration as to why there isn't more bipartisan cooperation and compromise in the California Legislature. A fact of life for legislators is that when you give a little you can lose a lot.
In 2002, eager to attract some bipartisan support and to also win the support of a reluctant Gov. Gray Davis, then-Assemblyman Gil Cedillo of Los Angeles agreed to compromise his bill to allow illegal immigrant workers to obtain drivers' licenses. Over the protests of most of his Latino supporters, Cedillo agreed to limit the bill so it applied only to those who were actively in the process of obtaining legal residency, which would have limited the pool of applicants to those who had been in the country a number of years, had a job and, in most cases, were learning English. He also agreed to require that these applications undergo criminal background checks.
Those concessions had half of their desired effect: Five Republicans in the Assembly, including Tony Strickland of Moorpark, joined most of the majority Democrats in support. A nervous Davis, however, vetoed the bill — a move, incidentally, that probably cost him hundreds of thousands of Latino votes in 2002 and helped to create the sense of vulnerability that would lead to his recall a year later.
In 2004, Audra Strickland, Tony's wife, is engaged in a bitterly contested primary in the fight to win the seat her termed-out husband will vacate. Citing Tony Strickland's vote on that 2002 bill, opponent Mike Robinson this week sent out inflammatory mailers that show a photo of illegal immigrants sprinting across the border, superimposed with a photo of Audra Strickland and the headline, "Audra Strickland favors driver's licenses ... for illegal aliens."
Never mind that Audra and Tony are two different people, presumably capable of thinking independently. Clearly, the intent is to confuse the 2002 bill with a more lenient measure signed by Davis in 2003 — one that Tony Strickland opposed. That bill became a flash point during the recall campaign, generating so much opposition that lawmakers rescinded it at Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's request.
The entire incident is a textbook example of why many lawmakers are fearful of making compromises and striking bipartisan agreements: In all likelihood, someone will find a way to use it against them in a primary election. Or, in this case, to use it against their spouse.
Primary elections in California are quite the opposite of bipartisan. Only voters in one political party can vote, and typically only the most ideologically driven voters participate on each side. That means the most liberal wing of the Democratic Party generally chooses its nominee, and the most conservative wing of the Republican Party chooses its nominee. It's a formula that causes lawmakers to toe the party line and shy away from compromise.
(For further details of the incident, see today's story in The Star.