It was a tale of two political worlds, and perhaps two realities.
Inside the San Luis Obispo City-County Library on Palm Street, state Sen. Sam Blakeslee, R-San Luis Obispo, led 60 members and guests at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon on a 30-minute verbal tour of the Legislature and its budget woes Friday, summoning pie charts and bar graphs to help them along.
Outside, on the other side of the closed library door, 50 feet and a world away, the same number of people also spoke about the state budget. But they were deploring the injuries that budget cuts have handed to the poor and challenging Blakeslee to stand up for them.
The protesters’ chants sometimes filtered through the door, although the words could not be understood, and those listening to Blakeslee occasionally looked nervously toward the muffled sounds.
That is as close as the two sides got Friday. A Blakeslee aide did monitor the rally, but Blakeslee did not speak to the protesters, and a couple of demonstrators were denied admission to the luncheon.
The dueling events Friday were as clear a demonstration as you could get of the emotions tugging at Americans and the contrasting pull of those feelings.
The Central Coast Clergy and Laity for Justice kicked things off at 11:30 a.m. with a rally on the steps of the courthouse that moved to the library half an hour later, as Blakeslee prepared to speak.
Carrying signs that held such sentiments as “SLO values its children,” and “Budget Cuts Hurt the Wounded,” the protesters argued that budget reductions already enacted will damage the disabled, the homeless, seniors and the hungry.
The Rev. Caroline Hall, Clergy and Laity for Justice’s co-president, said compassion is the mark of a spiritual and moral person.
Speakers chided Blake-slee for “excessive partisanship” and asked him to work on creating jobs for the unemployed and health care for those who do not have it.
More specifically, they asked that Blakeslee acquiesce to putting Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed license fee and sales tax extensions on a ballot so that the California public can vote on them.
Blakeslee later said it is too late for a measure to be ready for the ballot in June. However, he said, “There is still the opportunity for a compromise” to get a measure to the public later in the year.
For that to happen, however, Blakeslee said, the governor must add Republican proposals to rein in public employee pensions and work toward a spending cap.
Brown and the Legislature’s Democrats would like Californians to vote on whether they want to keep current vehicle license fees and sales taxes in place. But putting those on a statewide ballot requires a two-thirds vote of the Legislature, which means some Republicans must sign on.
Blakeslee said those on the left have sought to put Brown’s plan on the ballot as is, while Republicans at the other end of the political spectrum want no vote at all. The middle path is to find a compromise that includes some GOP plans, he said.
“I want to be part of the conversation” with Brown and the Democrats, he said, but he does not want to be “a sucker” and just say yes to their proposals.
In his prepared remarks and in a 45-minute question-and-answer period, Blake-slee also said: Brown, who was sworn in as governor in January, didn’t realize the width and depth of the Democrat-Republican fissure in state politics, but he is “coming up to speed in a race against time.”
The discussion about the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant should focus on safety and not on tourist dollars or other economic issues. Blakeslee, a geophysicist by training, noted that there are two faults close to the reactors and there is “tremendous uncertainty” about the relationship between them. He has criticized PG&E for not suspending its relicensing push until a seismic study is completed.
He prefers to see “targeted surgical cuts” when addressing the state budget rather than a “meat cleaver” approach.
Asked about a Los Angeles Times news story that said the GOP lost a chance at political clout by not going along with Brown, Blakeslee said the Times reporter, whom he named, was biased.
He stressed that there are two major sets of negotiations going on in Sacramento, one about the state budget, the other about whether to have a ballot measure and what it should include. He cautioned his listeners not to conflate the two, and accused Brown’s news office of doing so.
Public schools were less expensive to run when they were contracting out janitorial and other services than they have been since some of those workers became unionized.
Forced austerity measures put people in “emotionally distressing” frames of mind. “Tough austerity measures cause a lot of angst,” he said, noting that economies are struggling not just here but around the world. He mentioned Portugal, France, Ireland and Greece as some of the countries facing hard times.