What happens when the Democrats win total control of a state?
California provides a fine example: With big majorities in both houses of the state legislature, plus the governorship and every other statewide office, the Democrats raised the minimum wage to $15 an hour and introduced paid sick days and paid family leave; they increased abortion access; they passed automatic voter registration; they expanded Obamacare and health insurance for poor people; and just before Labor Day they required overtime pay for farmworkers, and established the nation’s most far-reaching targets for renewable energy and limits on greenhouse-gas emissions.
But there’s a shadow over California politics. When the corporations’ favorite political party became hopelessly weak, they set out to gain power in the other one. Their tool, of course, was money. So now we have some Democrats taking corporate money and doing the bidding of the oil and gas industry, agribusiness, the real estate developers, Big Pharma, and some of the billionaires. It’s “the new reality of California politics,” says Harold Meyerson of The American Prospect, an op-ed columnist for the Los Angeles Times. In Sacramento a new caucus was formed in 2014: Democrats who call themselves “moderates,” and are known as “the mods.” But “we shouldn’t call them ‘moderates,’” one progressive labor leader told me. “We should call them ‘opponents of working families and the poor.’” It’s simpler to call them “corporate Democrats.”
The corporate Dems have piles of cash—they spent at least $24 million in the June primary—and several goals. Number one was probably blocking Governor Jerry Brown’s effort to cut motorists’ use of fossil fuels in half by 2030. The oil lobby succeeded at this last year, but failed this term. And three years ago eight mods joined the remaining Republicans to block a bill that would have required big companies to provide medical care for low-income workers and their families who were not on Medi-Cal. “The bill’s opposition comprised a Who’s Who of California’s most influential corporate interests,” according to Capital and Main, a news Web site reporting on progressive issues in California. Then there’s a group of billionaires led by Eli Broad, fighting the teachers’ unions and seeking to expand charter schools. And there are the real-estate interests who want to end restrictions on development, especially along the coast. And the agribusiness-funded resistance in the Assembly to overtime pay for farmworkers was especially intense and prolonged.