Californians who support a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing, the controversial oil and gas drilling technique, were dismayed last September when the Democratically-controlled Legislature rejected a ban and opted for a law that many saw as woefully lacking.
On Sunday, Democrats closed out their party convention in Los Angeles by approving a platform that supports a fracking ban, free universal pre-school for 4-year-olds and legal recreational marijuana. All three are opposed by Governor Jerry Brown, a Democrat.
Brown was heckled during his speech Sunday when he mentioned fracking, but, in general, received an enthusiastic reception from the party faithful. Mainstream news accounts focused on “fractious,” “activist” behavior by the delegates and right-wing scribes noted a “move to the far left of reality.”
In fact, polling shows statewide support for all three measures, but it remains to be seen if any of the positions will become law.
Despite an invigorated economy and a state surplus after years of deficit-inspired budget cuts, Brown has resisted big-money commitments like preschool funding. He is also not keen on legalizing marijuana for recreational uses.
“The problem with anything, a certain amount is OK,” Brown said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” a week ago. “But there is a tendency to go to extremes. And all of a sudden, if there's advertising and legitimacy, how many people can get stoned and still have a great state or a great nation?”
Colorado and Washington, the two states that legalized pot last year, are about to find out and other states are considering legalization. Brown said he wanted to see how they fared before tempering his skepticism.
The governor may have time to do that, after announcing that he will seek an unprecedented fourth term this year. Brown is an overwhelming favorite at this point. The bluest of blue states does not have a single Republican statewide office holder and Brown’s two most-likely potential Republican contenders, Assemblyman Tim Donnelly and Neel Kashkari, are underfunded and laden with political baggage.
Donnelly is a very conservative supporter of gun rights who was unapologetic when caught with an unregistered gun in his luggage at an airport. He has led a militia contingent to thwart illegal immigration at the border (“It’s a great day to be a vigilante”) and likened President Barack Obama to Hitler, Stalin, George III and Mao Zedong.
Kashkari is an investment banker who held a high position at Goldman Sachs and worked on the federal bailout of AIG and banks during the economic meltdown six years ago. He is a moderate on social issues.
Democrats will almost certainly continue to control the Legislature after the November election, but off-year elections, which attract poor turnout, tend to favor Republicans. The Democrats recently lost their veto-proof two-thirds majority in the state Senate when one member of their caucus was indicted for a crime and another was convicted.
Without a super-majority, Democrats will have to labor to pass a budget, raise taxes, introduce ballot initiatives and float bond issues.
A fracking ban, legalized marijuana and universal preschool will be a tough slog even if those issues don’t really divide Democrats.