One of the most memorable lines of the movie “Forrest Gump” is “stupid is as stupid does.” Eight Republican legislators gave life to that saying last week in Sacramento as they handed Governor Jerry Brown, tax-raising Democrats and environmental extremists a huge victory by providing the votes needed to extend the so-called “cap and trade” pollution control program.
My purpose here is not to argue the merits or lack thereof in the legislation that was passed. Rather, it is to point out how stupidly the GOP leadership behaved as they helped the very radical elements of the Democrat legislative majority pass another very radical bill. A couple of highlights include raising taxes, imposing more regulation on business, raising the cost of gasoline and giving a few billion dollars to the “bullet train.”
The GOP leadership’s willingness to put this legislation, vitally important to the governor and the Left, over the top was stupid in many ways, but two stand out.
The “bullet train to nowhere” was about to suffocate for lack of dollars. The Trump administration and congressional Republicans are slowly turning off the money spigot. Republican votes for the “cap and trade” bill gave this monstrosity a new lease on life. The train – which will be great for anyone needing to get from Visalia to Modesto in a hurry – is very unpopular with voters of both parties. Nobody but the bureaucrats and environmentalists like it. It had reached the rigor-mortis stage and had one foot in the grave. The GOP legislative geniuses yanked it out of the sepulcher and performed CPR. Stupid is as stupid does.
More egregious was letting vulnerable Democratic legislators avoid a vote on this very controversial legislation. Democrat legislative leadership had to twist arms mightily and give away billions of dollars last month to secure the votes necessary to increase the gas tax. Their members representing districts that have shown Republican strength were most uncomfortable having to do that and were most anxious to avoid voting for another bill unpopular with their voters.
Those members were going to have to be dragged, kicking and screaming, by their leadership to vote for another bill that raised taxes. They knew that casting another tax-raising vote put a huge bulls-eye on their backs for fed-up, tax-paying voters. Those vulnerable Democratic legislators now have much less to fear – thanks to the GOP leadership shielding them from a very tough vote and protecting them from the wrath of their voters. Stupid is as stupid does.
There is a tactic called a “lifeboat” that legislative leaders use when confronting controversial votes that would endanger any of their partisan compatriots. If you can snooker (or pay off) a few gullible members of the other party to help you pass the bad legislation, you can then put your most vulnerable incumbents in the “lifeboat” of not voting.
Competent legislative leaders – at least those interested in improving their party’s representation in Sacramento – go to great pains not to provide the opposition with such a life boat. You do so by not providing any of your votes to help pass legislation that is important to your opposition.
If you have members who really want or need to vote for the opposition’s controversial legislation, you provide those votes only after all of the opposition’s members have voted for the poison pill. You do not shield the vulnerable members of the opposition. You force them to cast a vote that will hurt them in their home districts next election.
This is not rocket science, nor advanced campaign tactics. This is politics 101, and the failure of the Sacramento GOP leadership to practice such was dereliction of duty.
In the interests of full disclosure, I was Chief of Staff for the Assembly Republicans from late 1984 to mid-1987. During the legislative sessions of ’85 and ’86, we confronted many “lifeboat” situations. We never, ever put up Republican votes for controversial Democrat legislation until each and every Democrat had voted for it. We never, ever gave vulnerable Democrats the protection of a “lifeboat.”
Partially as a result of that practice, Republicans gained three Assembly seats in November, 1986, bringing GOP representation in the Assembly to 36. This was not because we were geniuses, although the GOP Assembly caucus had some brilliant political minds in it at the time. It was because, to paraphrase the late, unlamented President Obama, we avoided doing stupid shit. And there is very little more stupid than to make life easier for your most vulnerable political opponents.
I suspect that Assembly GOP leader (for now) Chad Mayes and the seven other Republicans who voted for the cap-and-trade legislative mutant are fine people and would make wonderful neighbors. This isn’t about that. It’s about letting the most at-risk Democrats off the hook.
The GOP “leadership” handed the Democrats an enormous gift by enabling the most vulnerable Democrats to avoid this vote. The GOP “leadership” has in essence given “in-kind” contributions worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Democrat legislators most in danger of defeat. The GOP “leadership” has helped bullet-proof the Democrats most likely to lose to a Republican in November next year.
Stupid is indeed as stupid does, and the Sacramento GOP did it up big time on this one.
Bill Saracino is a member of the Editorial Board of CA Political Review.