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Jennifer Nelson

The Rewards of Bipartisan Cooperation

It came as no surprise that Gov. Jerry Brown’s first budget plan included a proposed tax increase that requires a vote of the people. He was very clear in his campaign that he would not increase taxes without a vote of the people and a balanced budget without a tax increase would be just so…un-Democratic!

Reaction from the right side of the aisle also was not surprising. Senate Republican leader Bob Dutton immediately said that there was “zero” support in his caucus for increased taxes.  After Brown visited with the Assembly GOP caucas, their leader Connie Conway described the meeting to the Los Angeles Times: "It was cordial.  It was conversational.  I don’t think anyone changed their mind about raising taxes." 


It doesn’t take much brainpower to guess how the press will describe Republican opposition to a budget plan that includes higher taxes instead of deeper cuts in spending. In fact, here’s what the LA Times‘ Tim Rutten had to say today in response to Dutton and Conway’s opposition to putting the proposed tax increases on the ballot:
“That doesn’t sound like much of a formula for bipartisan cooperation, though Brown could employ an exotic device to put the tax extensions before the voters by winning a simple legislative majority to attach them as an amendment to a ballot measure that already has qualified. Moreover, if the Legislature’s Republicans sit out this round of the state’s budget crisis, they’ll simply have completed the long march into political irrelevancy that began with their embrace of Proposition 187.”
Bipartisan cooperation…hmmm, let’s take a close look at what that looks like, come Election Day. Perhaps if the Governor can’t remember, he might ask Mike Villines or Abel Maldonado how Republicans who “do the right thing” (as defined by Democrats and the press) fare. 
And if Jerry Brown can’t get any GOP legislators to ignore their constituents and caucus colleagues and support his tax increase, he might have a little meeting with his new lieutenant governor, Gavin “Pretty Boy” Newsom, to thank him for ensuring that Republicans never violate their core beliefs in support of “bipartisan cooperation.” Because even if a Republican legislator was somehow compelled to support the state’s new governor (and compromise their core values) under the guise of "bipartisanship," the 2010 election was a lesson in how the Democrats reward such “cooperation” come the general election.
Let’s recap: Mike Villines and Abel Maldonado ran for Insurance Commissioner and Lieutenant Governor in 2010 against Dave Jones and Gavin Newsom, respectively. Villines and Maldonado each had tough primary fights after voting in July 2009 for then-Gov. Schwarzenegger’s budget in which the governor and the Democratic legislative leaders choose higher taxes over deeper spending cuts. 
How did the Democrats reward this “bipartisan cooperation” in the general election? With paid media blasting both men for their votes.
Jones ran radio ads and sent emails to Republican voters claiming that Villines “raised our taxes $14 billion” (he forgot to mention that he also voted for the budget). 
For his part, Gavin Newsom ran radio ads telling voters that Maldonado was "…a career Sacramento legislator who hasn’t been straight with us on either budget or taxes” and that "Abel Maldonado voted to cut our public schools and supported the biggest tax increase in California history.” 
Was this hypocrisy pointed out by any major news outlet? Not to my knowledge. Even when the San Francisco Chronicle endorsed Villines over Jones in the general, the editorial board praised Villines for daring “…to break party ranks by agreeing to taxes in a 2009 deal that closed a $42 billion deficit.” But they did not point out the sleazy campaign that Jones ran against Villines. 
But my point today is not to complain about election sleaze (that would be useless; Jones’ and Newsom’s tactics were rewarded by both the press and the voters), but just to remind people how the Democratic Party repays gestures of “bipartisan cooperation.”
There will be great pressure on the GOP from the Governor (“I will … go into the lion’s den and see if I can convince them to live with a little less red meat than they’re accustomed [to]," Brown told the LA Times when he released his budget on Monday), the Democratic leaders and the press. 
But here’s the risk Republican legislators run if they were to go along with the governor’s plan to ask the people for $12 billion in new taxes. First, they would look like they were out of touch with the electorate since the voters just resoundly rejected new taxes and fees. Second, they would anger the people who elected them on a platform of no new taxes and reduced government spending. Then they would earn statewide and national mockery from their own party for selling out their principles to a governor who doesn’t even have the guts to take on the teacher or prison guard unions. Lastly, they will be skewered in the next general election by the very party asking them to do the “right thing” in the name of “bipartisan cooperation.” 
None of the major newspapers ever called Newsom or Jones on their sleazy campaign tactics during the election. But they have the opportunity to explain why GOP legislators will be unwilling to compromise their principles in the name of “bipartisan cooperation.” Because this bit of “bipartisan cooperation” would not only violate their political core beliefs, but would also quickly be used against them by the majority party at election time. 
Just ask Mike Villines and Abel Maldonado.