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1. The Challenge of Challenging Challengers
If one thing has come through loud and clear at DPOC events so far this year, at what seems like at least one speech at every meeting, it is that the party hierarchy does not want any big primary fights. In practice, this is not so much a concern about which person is going to take on Dana Rohrabacher or Don Wagner; those races as unlikely to such up much money on the Democratic side. It’s really, in my opinion, about two races.
The party’s big movers don’t want to see a Latino Democratic challenge to Tom Daly in AD 69 — although after the Supes’ vote for Clerk-Recorder I have to wonder if Renee Ramirez, knocked out of the job for which she had been favored in part by blowback from Daly’s “consulting contract” with Jordan Brandman, might at this point feel like taking a crack at him herself as a moderate Republican or independent. Perhaps even more so, they don’t want to see any other Democrat taking on Jose Solorio in the race against Janet Nguyen and possibly other Republicans to succeed Lou Correa in the new SD-34.
The targets of these warnings are progressives both within the county party leadership [Disclosure: such as me!] and outside of it, such as at Los Amigos and the Orange County Labor Federation. Up north this week, Congressional District 17 has been making “inside politics” headlines as “business friendly” Democrat from Silicon Valley Ro Khanna is gearing up to challenged widely beloved (and extremely funny) progressive Democrat Mike Honda. With SD-34 considered to be the biggest battleground next year over what might be control of the upper chamber, one can expect similar headlines to focus on this race, if a challenger emerges.
But why would anyone really want to divide the Democratic Party by going after former Assemblyman (and current Rancho Santiago Community College District Trustee) Jose Solorio? If you find yourself looking for an explanation later on, you may find it in an annual publication that came out this past week. That report lends itself to talking points such as this one: while Jose Solorio may not have been the most anti-Labor member of the California Legislature over the 2011-2012 term, by at least one measure he was its most effective opponent.
And that, if you’re trying to stave off a primary challenge, is really bad. If you have an overall 88% record of voting with record on the floor (83% in 2012 alone), it’s not just bad — it’s weird. How can we explain it?
We use a scorecard.
2. Can’t Tell the Playas Without a Scorecard
In the middle of the tenure of Progressive Governor Hiram Johnson, the California Labor Federation came out with its first “legislative scorecard,” rating state legislators based on a select number of their votes on issues relevant to the labor movement. Such a scorecard is both to let the legislators know that they’re being watched on certain and to let the public know what was found. (As usual, if you want to change something, the first step is to measure it.)
This past week, a new set of these report cards arrived, packaged on their website in a PDF entitled “A Force for Progress 2012: Labor’s Legislative Scorecard.” The website also contains the previous nine annual reports and a link to archives containing compilations of legislative voting records on labor issues stretching back to January 1913, exactly 100 years ago this term.
Some readers may have little idea what that even means, and are just being drawn into this story out of habit or due to the expectation that I’m going to say something bad about Jose Solorio, such as the report and its predecessors show that by one significant measure Solorio literally had the worst record on Labor issues of anyone serving in the Legislature last year. Oh, heck — I won’t make you wait for it: here’s the “talking point” that I was able to figure out when sifting through the data:
Jose Solorio cast five career votes against Labor interests in legislative committees over six years — more than anyone, Republican or Democrat, who served with him in the legislature during his last term in the Assembly and as many as Don Wagner and Alan Mansoor combined.
If you want to know why Labor is still not on board with him as the Democratic nominee for SD-34 next year, that’s as good a capsule explanation of it as any.
Of course, what I wrote above is not exactly a simple sentence. “Career” votes? “Against Labor interests”? “In committee”? “During his last Assembly term”? “Wagner and Mansoor”? All of these have some significance — to be explained below.
But once you understand that sentence, you’ll understand why there is a real chance that at least local Labor interests could decide to put up their own candidate against Solorio, or sit on their hands if he makes a runoff against (most likely) Janet Nguyen — or even support Nguyen over him, regardless of the wrath of Democrats including Assembly Speaker John Perez — because they consider Solorio to be treacherous instead of trustworthy.
Solorio had seven chances while in the Assembly to vote on legislation critical to Labor in committees — where most of the real decisions about legislation are made — and he supported the Labor position only twice.
Well, you might ask — so what? Is two out of seven good or bad? Is seven chances a lot or a little? How does it compare to other legislators? Those are the questions one can assess with the help of a legislative scorecard. (Answers: very bad for a Democrat. A lot. Very poorly.)
But that can wait a moment: first, let me point to the readers out there who are sharpening their knives and preparing to call the Democratic Party “captives of the Labor movement” — because that’s one possible reaction to such a scorecard. Skip the next four sections (for now … or forever) and go straight to section 7 if you want to get straight to analysis of Solorio’s “achievement” rather than stepping back for a moment to consider the broader context.
(All right, I can see you’re going probably to need a picture or two to keep yourself going. I’ll put in some snips from a video of an alligator biting through a watermelon.)
3. Captives, Compliant, or Colleagues?
Before we do move on to Solorio, though, let’s get a few things out of the way.
The criticism of a legislative scorecard system (which you’re likely going to see in the comments on this very post unless my noting it up here makes that too awkward) is that it renders legislators as “captives” of a special interest group — or at minimum documents it their fearful compliance. (It’s not just Labor, by the way: business and professional interests, religious and environmental activists, women’s and GLBT groups, racial and ethnic groups — pretty much everyone who wants to influence legislators has a scorecard.)
This is not quite fair. Politicians can support a given interest group’s position for many reasons — including both “out of fear of consequences” and “because they agree on the merits.” It’s true that one reason for putting out a scorecard like this is to put the fear of political consequences into legislators. But let’s be fair about this: (1) those consequences are largely people are finding out that you’re being rotten in how you vote, which is good in a democratic system and (2) this display in consequences is set out in public, as opposed to the threats and promises made privately to legislators by lobbyists and colleagues. It also gives good feedback to voters (and especially political activists) as to who they might want to support in a primary. Generally, there’s nothing about that that is inconsistent with someone voting on issues on the merits.
There is one area where the pressure of a scorecard is likely to affect some votes, though — and as someone who wants people to vote on the merits I do find it to be a problem, although not an especially significant one. That is, someone who has the opportunity to get a “perfect score” (or at least a really good score — or on some scorecards, a really bad score) may shade their votes on some issues to maintain it. Yeah, OK, this will happen sometimes. Is it likely to be decisive? Rarely if ever. I think that scorecard groups distinguish much too much between someone who is “always with us” versus someone who is “with us most of the time — and always where it counts.” Let’s say that Labor was right on opposing a bill to deregulate the VOIP industry (discussed below.) Well, the position got only 12 votes in the Assembly. Was this a vote that “counted”? A Labor official might well say “yes, they all count!” And yet, I expect that deep down (or maybe not so deep down) they do distinguish between big battles and little ones, whether or not they think it wise to admit it.
4. Scoring Legislative Bills: Some Types of Political Battles
While the Labor Fed makes a special point of honoring legislators who vote with it 100% of the time in a given year, it’s the rare politician who agrees with them all of the time. Labor picks a variety of bills that it considers important or significant on which to score legislators in each house.
Some of these bills — like AB 1744, a bill by Long Beach Assembly Member Bonnie Lowenthal that would require that temporary worker paystubs show the rate of pay and hours worked by assignment and that workers be provided a notice with client name and address — have overwhelming support within the Democratic Caucus and shouldn’t pose much of a problem for supporters. “Low bars to clear,” in other words. (And indeed, this passed the Assembly 49-26 and the State Senate 21-13, was signed by the Governor, and is now law.)
Others bills are ones about which Labor feels strongly but on which it has a relatively small chance of prevailing. A good example from last term was a bill that labor opposed, SB 1161, sponsored by relatively conservative Democratic State Senator Alex Padilla, that will deregulate the VOIP (internet phone) industry, allowing telecom corporations in this fastest-growing segment of the industry to “cut jobs and erode worker safety measures.” Only 12 Assembly Democrats voted against that bill; in teaching terms, it was a vote that mostly helped them distinguish the A+ grades from the A grades.
Then there are a lot of bills that are supported by most, but not all, Democrats. Many got between 46 and 54 votes — which, unless a supermajority was required (as with a tax measure) means that an individual legislator’s vote means little as to whether the given bill is pasesed. Those bills provide a low-cost opportunity to curry favor with one or another interest group — Labor, for instance! Such a vote can also be explained away to opponents of Labor as just sucking up to them in a situation where it didn’t really matter. Business lobbies especially can be quite understanding about the need to build one’s credibility in circumstances where it does them no real damage.
Finally, there are bills that turn out to be close votes. This is the arena where what a legislator does on the floor can actually be decisive. (Note that it’s not always decisive: one can vote for a bill knowing that the other chamber is going to kill it even if one own chamber doesn’t do so, or that the Governor will veto it. That gives you a free vote — a chance to “look good” without doing damage to one’s relationship with one’s supporters on the other side of the issue. But sometimes, one’s vote on a close issue — because it matters more than anything else done on the floor — can be very telling.)
Thanks for reading this far! Here’s another alligator photo!
5. Close Margins and Close Votes — Some Bills to Watch
(Warning: This Section is Unbearably Nerdy)
Of the 29 bills scored by Labor that reached the Assembly floor in 2012, two had close margins, but two others were close votes. The difference is due to the requirement that a bill receive a majority of the seats currently held in the Assembly rather than of those voting: 41-0 and 39-0 are close votes even though they aren’t close margins. Votes of 35-34 and 32-33 are close margins despite not being truly close votes. The difference is in how many people abstain — a way of warding off campaign attacks stating that one “voted against” a given bill. Like most scorecards I’ve seen, the Labor Fed treats an unexcused abstention as a vote for the wrong side. (An excused abstention, such as for a grave illness, is truly counted as neither positive nor negative.)
One with a close margin was AB 1313, authored by Michael Allen‘s, which would have given farmworkers mandatory overtime. It had passed the State Senate on a simple majority vote, 22-15. It failed in the Assembly on a vote of 35-33, having needed a majority of 41 votes of the 80-member Assembly to pass. Solorio voted for it — good for him, he builds up his pro-Labor record — but even if he didn’t truly want it to pass it was a fairly safe vote. Sixteen Democrats (including some quite liberal ones with pro-Labor records) didn’t vote yes — the Labor Scorecard doesn’t distinguish between the four who voted no and the 12 who didn’t vote — which isn’t especially close. (Note, by the way, is that one reason one might not vote yes — which I do not know to have been the case here — can be to protect the Governor from having to veto such a bill himself, if he were inclined to do so. Here’s the UFW’s take on the bill, by the way.)
The other such bill is a little more interesting, at least when it comes to figuring out Solorio’s views. That is SB 1208, authored by Mark Leno. It would have required publicly held corporations to report the top five highest retirement compensation packages for corporate executives. It failed on a 32-36 vote, with Solorio receiving a negative score along with other less-liberal Democrats like Alejo, Block, Bonilla, Buchanan, Chesbro, Hall, Huber, Hueso, Ma, Mendoza, Pan, and Perea.
Looking at that list, you’ll see a number of names that either have already ascended to, or are now trying to ascend to, the State Senate. You just learned something important about California politics. More generally, the failure of a politically significant bill like this explains why critics sometimes accuse the state Democratic Party of “taking a fall” on some such issues. It only takes one misplaced bump in a key to keep a lock from turning — or, if you prefer, there is more than one way to skin a cat!
It’s when a bill has between, say, 38 and 42 yes votes (depending partly on how many Assembly seats are vacant) that every vote truly does count. One bill in this category was AB 1692, sponsored by Bob Wieckowski, intended to give the mediator in a pre-municipal bankruptcy mediation the ability the toll the clock if the city or county refused to provide accurate financial information. Seems like an obvious “yes” to me, and it got 42 votes to pass out of the Assembly, Solorio’s included. It then died in the Senate Rules Committee — not the floor, the committee — rendering suspect the “yes” vote of anyone who knew that this was likely to happen.
The other bill in this category was AB 2346, which was sponsored by Betsy Butler and would strengthen and codify outdoor heat illness regulations for farmworkers. This got 41 votes and then passed the State Senate with 21 votes — both the bare minimum if no seats are vacant. It was then vetoed by Governor Brown. This, once again, raises suspicions among critics about every positive vote for it, given that some may have known behind the scenes that “the fix was in.” Or, in this case, perhaps the fix wasn’t in — and Brown made his decision secretly and late in the process and on the merits. We generally don’t know.
6. And Then There is What Happens in Committees
As I said, though, how an individual legislator votes on the floor is usually much less significant than what they can do — especially if properly motivated, on their committees. Committees aren’t monitored as closely by the public or media. And while committee votes are monitored, committee debate — and sidebars with colleagues — aren’t monitored either less well or not at all. One good example of that is what happened with the Dave Jones proposal to give himself, as Insurance Commissioner, the right to put a brake on unreasonable increases in insurance premiums, which OC Democrat Solorio tried to neuter in his Assembly committee and (when that failed) OC Demorat Correa helped to kill off on the State Senate floor. (Note: as usual, the Republicans were way more guilty of obstruction.)
It’s in committee votes that one gets a better idea of how legislators act when they think that fewer people are looking. Wreck legislation of serious concern to the stalwarts within your own party on the legislative floor is a bad idea, at least if you care about being nominated. Doing so in committee — a lot easier and safer. That’s why Committee assignments — and especially who chairs the committees (and is in the best position to stuff a proposed bill into a pigeonhole from which it may never escape — matters so much.
As is probably obvious, some committees deal with issues of concern to Labor much more than do others. In fact, the California Labor Fed scorecard scores only a handful of committee votes per year — in 2012, just 7 in the Assembly and 3 in the State Senate. Most legislators — 44 of the 80 Assembly Members and 31 of the 40 State Senators, didn’t even vote on a scored bill in committee in 2012. To get to vote on one, you have to first be assigned to a committee — or in some cases to two or more committees — that even covers labor-related issues, which most legislators don’t do. But if you are appointed to one, your vote on labor issues will matter much more than those of other legislators, especially if you’re in the majority party. You have a much greater ability to weaken or kill labor-supported bills — and, if you’re clever, to do so in ways that don’t necessarily leave fingerprints.
You have the ability, in other words, to be an especially effective opponent of Labor’s positions — and, again, those of any other interest group that comes before your committee — if you choose to be one. And now we are finally ready to talk more specifically about Jose Solorio.
7. Dive Into the Data!
Here’s a big chart, summarizing most (but by no means all) of what you’d most need to know about the Cal Labor Fed Scorecard. It ranks the Assembly members in order of their “total 2012 score” on Labor issues. (I was going to do one for State Senate also, but instead I just added two OC Senators — Democrat Lou Correa and Republican Mimi Walters — at the bottom of the two columns to give a sense of where they stand. Believe it or not, this takes some time.) It will require a lot more explanation, which appears below.
Here we go: Democrats are highlighted in light blue, Republicans in light red (they don’t like it being called “pink”), and Republican turned independent turned defeated San Diego Mayor Candidate Nathan Fletcher in light purple. Each legislator has six columns of scores, the first five of which appear in the scorecard.
The first column is the TOTAL percentage of votes they cast on the “pro-labor” side of issues. For most people, as you can see, this is equal to the score for floor votes. Where the numbers are different, it’s because the person is on a committee and (in all but the top two cases) that changed their percentage.
The second column is the total percentage of FLOOR votes where they took the pro-Labor position. The third column is the total percentage of FLOOR votes that they have case over their life in the legislature — or FLOOR L. (I think, but am not sure, that this includes time spent in the other legislative house where applicable.)
The fourth column is the total percentage of pro-Labor votes cast in COMMITTEE, or CMTE. The fifth column — and that name is a happy accident so far as this article is concerned — shows the lifetime percentage of pro-Labor votes in committee, or LIFE C.
Take a good look at the colorful sixth column, LIFE F-C, standing for “Lifetime Score for Floor Votes minus Committee Votes.” This simply subtracts the score in the fifth column from the score in the third column. That is, it shows how much more likely a legislator was to support the pro-Labor position when on the legislative floor than when on a committee. Now, there are many differences why one might vote differently on the floor versus on a committee, many of them possibly good. However, there is also one really bad reason: that the legislator is acting differently when they feel that they are being closely monitored.
To the extent that that’s what LIFE F-C measures that, its absolute value (that is, discounting the presence of a negative sign) might be a ballpark measure of “untrustworthiness.” It doesn’t by itself prove that someone is untrustworthy, but it gives rise to suspicion and invites closer examination.
I’ve divided the “LIFE F-C” scores into categories fourteen scores wide, as you can see at the right, coding each one with a different color. The lightest colors, yellow for positive and beige for negative ones, are those who are close to being exactly the same in committee as they are on the floor. Two Republicans, Berryhill and Gorrell, turned out to be better in committee than they were on the floor. That doesn’t mean that they’re untrustworthy (for Republicans); it just invites investigation. It may be, for example, that each only cast two votes and one of them was on a bill where labor interests were aligned with those of business, so that in effect they voted “pro-Labor” incidentally or even accidentally.
On the Democratic side, we see a lot more difference between committee and floor votes. This is, in most cases, a little misleading. Skinner, Campos, Mitchell, Blumenfeld, Bradford, Huffman, and Lara all have Life F-C scores of close to 50 — but this is a function of their (1) having extremely good pro-Labor records on the floor and (2) having cast as few as one anti-labor vote out of a total of two in committee. With some committee votes being on the type that few people support them at all, it’s not necessarily damning to have one bad committee vote out of two. It’s notable, and it invites further inquiry, but it’s not necessarily indicative of untrustworthiness. Sometime a pro-Labor person can have a problem with a particular proposal, especially if it hasn’t been fully baked.
In the cases of two Assembly members, Jose Solorio and Isadore Hall, though, we see something a little difference. Both have good records — in Hall’s case, an excellent LIFE F score of 91 — on floor votes. But Hall’s LIFE C score is only 25 — which, as we’ll see, means 1 pro-Labor vote and 3 anti-Labor votes in committees over the course of his career. That’s also not necessarily damning — but it sure does invite closer examination of the specifics.
Solorio, though, has a less commonly seen LIFE C score — 29%. That’s a number that schoolkids don’t encounter until they get to irrational fractions — like, in this case, 2/7. That — well, let’s not talk about “damning” — let’s just say that it invites very close examination of what Solorio has been doing in committees — and of why he has sought out a position where he could develop that bad of a record.
Seven votes on committees, even over six years, is a lot — isn’t it? Let’s check.
7. How Solorio Ended Up As the Worst Legislator on Labor — By One Measure
Here’s another graphic:
I’ve added a column to the previous one, where I went beyond the LIFE C percentage and counted up the actual number of committee votes that each committee member had cast over the course of their career. I’ve also highlighted the scores of Orange County legislators in orange. As you can see, our Republican Orange County contingent was a combined 0 for 11. (In Wagner’s and Mansoor’s cases, that’s just two years apiece; in Hagman’s and Harkey’s, four years apiece, for a total of 12 years.)
Solorio’s not nearly as bad percentage-wise — you can’t get lower than zero here — but he’s had more trips to the plate than any pair of them. That has allowed him to cast five — count ’em, 5! — anti-Labor votes in committee, along with whatever else he’s been able to do there to hobble or obstruct pro-Labor legislation as part of a majority without having to cast an explicit vote.
Five anti-Labor votes is more than any Republican serving last term had gotten to cast over the course of their career. It’s as many as Mansoor cast in two years plus those that Wagner cast. (Wagner, at a pace of three in two years, will probably outpace Solorio if he stays on relevant committees.)
Now, to me, that “88% vs. 29%” comparison is the more significant figure. When Labor talks about considering Solorio to be treacherous, that’s really what they’re talking about. But that “more anti-Labor votes in committee than any other Republican or Democrat serving in the 2011-2012 session” — well, that’s a talking point! That’s the sort of thing that goes onto a piece of campaign literature. That puts a simple and concrete number on the idea of his not being trustworthy.
I know that my fellow Democrats would argue that he had no real choice, he was from a conservative district (which in the case of AD-69 is completely absurd, but you can make somewhat of a case in SD-34), etc., and that he should therefore get a pass.
With respect, I disagree. If he knew that he was going to vote against Labor interests on his committees, he absolutely did have one choice that he didn’t exercise — get himself assigned to different committees. If he felt that he was required to vote against Labor interests sometimes on the floor — which of course, [cough], he for the most part carefully avoided doing — then he could make it clear to the Speaker’s office that his political viability would depend on his not being put in a position to cast such votes. He could have asked for political protection — surely he knows how to do that — and would probably have received it. Yet, he didn’t. He didn’t to a massive degree. And if Democrats really want to tell Labor to suck it up and shut up, they should at least understand the extent of the grievance against him — one demonstrated right in this report.
I don’t know what if anything Solorio can do at this point to make things right with Labor; it’s hard to climb out from a charge of treachery. I do know of someone else who I hope will take note of this analysis, though. That’s Solorio’s successor in the AD-69 slot, Tom Daly, who will have two years to compile his own voting record — and who will be watched very closely. He’ll be watched the way that an alligator watches an watermelon lobbed at its mouth.