In a recent meeting between California Forward leadership and newspaper editorial board members, CA Fwd stated that the political environment has improved in the State Capitol; it is less partisan and much more productive. In particular, we opined, the new legislators elected in 2012 seem to be of a different breed. The editorial board members were skeptical about the claim. The editorial board members’ skepticism prompted us to think about this topic and we came up with an idea: Ask the new legislators, elected in 2012, how they feel about the Capitol’s culture, as their first terms are coming to an end.
So we did. We prepared a short questionnaire that asks legislators about governance reforms and their thoughts about the future
Read below our Q&A with Assemblymember Kevin Mullin (D-San Mateo). A former city councilmember and mayor of South San Francisco, Mullin was elected to represent the 22nd assembly district in 2012.
Do you think the voter-approved democracy reforms regarding redistricting, open primaries and term limits have improved governance in the California Legislature? If yes, how have these reforms improved governance? If not, why not?
Yes, I believe you are seeing a moderation of positions, a renewed focus on bi-partisan cooperation and relationship building given extended terms.
Did these reforms influence your decision to run for office in 2012? Why or why not?
While I would likely have run regardless of the reforms, the prospect of term limit reform passing was an added incentive, given the transformative prospects of extended terms. My politics are also naturally geared toward working in a bi-partisan manner, so the Top 2 reform was also appealing in terms of my decision to run in this cycle.
As new legislators are elected under these governance reforms, do you predict changes will occur in Sacramento’s political climate? Why or why not?
I believe the reforms have already begun changing who gets elected, who stays elected, and the tone in which debates occur, especially among members of the class of 2012. You are seeing a desire among my freshman colleagues to introduce fewer bills, focus and develop expertise on specific policy areas, and do more oversight since we may still be serving in the body to see outcomes and results within state departments with legislation we pass.
Do you believe that there is more bipartisan cooperation in the Legislature now than in the past? Why or why not?
Yes, and regardless of the Democratic supermajority, there is a recognition that the supermajorities may go away, that working across the party aisle has historically resulted in progress, and an understanding that relationships should be fostered and nurtured given that we will be working our Republican colleagues for up to 12 years, and there is a strong desire to have an institution that works.
Are there other reforms you think California should adopt to improve governance?
These electoral reforms represent something of a sea change, but more can be done to promote transparency through our own Assembly Rules. I believe Speaker Atkins is interested in institutional development, and I know there is an appetite among my colleagues to review house procedures. I personally am interested in looking at myriad ways to improve transparency and strengthen public trust in state government and the Legislature.
Assuming that you serve the maximum of 12 years in the Legislature, do you expect to serve them in the same chamber?
While it’s impossible to predict what happens politically, I do not anticipate running for the Senate because of the prospective seniority gained in the Assembly by staying put in the Assembly, voters willing of course.
What’s the big issue you plan to address and work to improve during your tenure in Sacramento?
We must address structural reforms including reforming state-local finance, looking at budget and tax reforms to stabilize our revenue stream post-Prop 30, and doing institutional development to strengthen public confidence in the Legislature.