Editor’s Note: The following was first published on Feb. 8 as a guest commentary by the website CalMatters. It was sent in by a “group of elected state leaders who arrived at the same conclusion: Government too often does not work for the people we represent.” The leaders include state legislators Tom Lackey, Melissa Hurtado, Josh Newman, Cottie Petrie-Norris, Adam Gray, Suzette Valladares, Chad Mayes, and Jordan Cunningham.
Who does your government work for?
It’s a question that people of all political persuasions frequently answer in the same way: “Not me.”
As members of the state Legislature, we can tell you firsthand that our government isn’t working for most Californians. Instead of being dedicated to protecting the lives and livelihoods of our 40 million residents and delivering real results for working families, politicians today often seem more interested in ideological maneuvering, bolstering Twitter followers, or smearing the other side.
When the political environment becomes so toxic that protesters turn into violent insurrectionists who invade the halls of our nation’s Capitol, it’s time to take stock of our democracy. Differing political opinions are no longer just an uncomfortable topic we avoid at holiday gatherings. They have become so poisonous that they are ripping our families and our country apart.
We are a group of very different elected leaders who share very similar concerns about what afflicts our country and our state. Despite our varied backgrounds – Republicans from Los Angeles and the Central Coast, Democrats from farming communities and Orange County, and a political independent – we have arrived at the same conclusion: Government too often does not work for the people we represent.
That must change, and we intend to help change it.
In Washington, D.C., partisan bickering has sidetracked solutions, and stalemates have caused government shutdowns. The best hope of getting beyond these deep divisions is the Congressional Problem Solvers Caucus, which has emerged as a forum for compromise. Its 50 members – 25 Democrats and 25 Republicans – are all committed to putting partisanship aside to find workable solutions to the most difficult disagreements. For example, we have the Problem Solvers to thank for breaking the gridlock that secured a COVID-19 relief bill before Christmas.
California’s challenges differ, but they are no less destructive. In the state Legislature, party loyalty determines committee assignments, staff resources and even office space. Republicans are pressured by their caucus to disavow any solutions offered by Democrats, and Democrats are expected to march in lockstep behind their leaders. Diverge from either party line and expect swift retribution – something many of us have experienced.
What has this behavior gotten us? Wildfires burn out of control. The line at the DMV is hours long. Millions of hardworking people still cannot access unemployment benefits during a pandemic while billions of dollars have been paid out to fraudsters and criminals. The cost of living and home prices are still too high. Our schools don’t have the resources they need to give every student a quality education.
In Washington, politicians have the other side of the aisle to blame for any problem they have failed to solve. With essentially single-party rule in California, what is our excuse?
We must do better.
That is why we are forming the California Problem Solvers Caucus – a bi-cameral (Senate and Assembly) and party-agnostic (Democrats, Republicans and Independents) group dedicated to finding solutions and creating results.
Our goal is to create a group of legislators committed more to progress than to ideology. Compromise is not a bad word. We intend to be a forum where bipartisan solutions are rewarded. If a solution makes sense, we will do everything in our power to get it over the finish line no matter who came up with the idea.
Most of all, we believe in reforming the legislative process to foster an environment that encourages rather than discourages common-sense solutions.
Some of our ideas include:
- A non-partisan Attorney General and Secretary of State;
- Consolidation and reorganization of California’s more than 200 state agencies, departments and commissions with clear lines of accountability;
- A two-year budget cycle, where each even-numbered year the Legislature focuses on oversight of the executive branch and its vast array of departments;
- A streamlined legislative process for bills with bipartisan support.
Some 225 years ago, George Washington called political parties “the worst enemy” of government leading to the “ruin of liberty.” In that spirit, the California Problem Solvers Caucus will work with thought leaders across the spectrum to create a government that works for the people it serves.
We invite all of our colleagues in the Legislature who share these values to join this caucus. Together, we can change our state’s trajectory and make the California dream a California reality.