Are the Democratic lawmakers in the California Assembly bored?
With the myriad problems facing Californians – housing crisis, homelessness crisis, public education crisis, affordability crisis, declining population, lack of water, worsening wildfires and a massive budget deficit – it seems like the last thing they should be concerning themselves with is personality conflicts in the Tennessee Statehouse.
But that’s one of the things they wasted time on this week.
The resolution centered on an incident on April 6 where two Democratic lawmakers in Tennessee were expelled for bringing the House’s proceeds to a halt by protesting with bullhorns what they perceived was a lack of action on gun-control legislation.
Republicans have a supermajority in the Tennessee House and the vote to expel passed easily. Expulsion went too far and the lawmakers have since been reinstated.
And while it’s perfectly reasonable for California’s lawmakers to support the Tennessee lawmakers on their own time, it’s nonsense to waste the state’s time discussing it.
The resolution’s author, Assemblyman Mike Gipson, D-Los Angeles, said it was a matter of “democracy.”
“We cannot have our democracy eroded,” Gipson said, according to KCRA. “We will stand up for the voiceless. We will stand up for the disenfranchised.”
Of course, elected officials in Tennessee are neither voiceless nor disenfranchised. And shutting down democratic proceedings to seek attention with a bullhorn is itself an erosion of democracy.
But what makes Gipson’s resolution so ridiculous is that it overlooked the anti-democratic actions his Democratic supermajority constantly pulls.
What prompted the Tennessee Democratic lawmakers to pull a stunt like that in the first place is that they are stuck in a legislative superminority with no power to control the agenda in any way.
You know who is in a similar situation? California Republicans in the Assembly. But I don’t remember Gipson introducing a resolution supporting them.
“Bottom line: If we want to ensure democracy then we better do it right here at home,” Assembly Republican Leader James Gallagher said on the floor, noting that routinely Republicans are silenced when urging action on “crisis issues like wildfires and fentanyl and kids dying.”
Gipson is right that the tyranny of an oppressive supermajority does threaten democracy. But so does taking a stand only when it’s politically convenient.
Justin Jones, one of the Tennessee lawmakers, was on hand for the proceedings. When asked by a reporter whether supermajorities are good for democracy, he dodged the question. But what he offered was even more illuminating.
“I was not allowed to speak. I had my microphone shut off. I was not allowed to be recognized on the floor. That is what I was dealing with in my state,” Jones said, according to KCRA.
Sounds like a day in the life of Republicans in the California legislature!
Jones must not have been around when a Democratic Assemblyman, Roger Hernandez, actually had the mic of Matthew Harper, a Republican colleague, physically removed from the table in front of him. Or when a Republican senator, Janet Nguyen, was removed from the Senate floor for speaking against the chamber honoring someone who supported communist control of her homeland, Vietnam.
Hopefully Jones got to hang around a few more days to enjoy what’s known as the suspense file, where hundreds of bills are summarily killed by the whims of a Democratic committee chair without so much as a hearing or vote.
Again, Jones and his colleagues were wrong for bringing a bullhorn and protest to session, and Tennessee Republicans were wrong for expelling them. But it’s hard to imagine California Assembly Democrats’ reacting substantially differently if California’s Republican Assemblymembers used a bullhorn during debate.
Ironically, one of the members debating the resolution, Assemblyman Alex Lee, D-San Jose, tweeted recently: “It always baffles me that part-time legislatures are adjourning for the legislative session while CA we barely are done with first committees. How do you jam in so much work so quickly??”
Lee tweeted that just as he embarked on a European trip in the middle of the legislative session.
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Even more ironic is that one of the states with a part-time Legislature is Tennessee, which explains why Jones was in town.
Anyway, hypocrisy breeds cynicism. Gallagher is right: If California Democrats are serious about promoting democracy, start in California. It’s not like interparty bickering in the Tennessee State House is a kitchen-table issue in California.
To Californians who feel like the state government is not responding to crises with the appropriate sense of urgency, this does nothing to help matters.
And to Californians who think the state government is working hard to solve the state’s problems, hopefully this raises some questions about the collective judgment of the Democratic supermajority.
Follow Matt on Twitter @FlemingWords