Influencers Opinion

Partisan politics prevents legislators from solving big problems. It wasn’t always that way

Note to readers: Each week through November 2019, a selection of our 101 California Influencers answers a question that is critical to California’s future. Topics include education, healthcare, environment, housing and economic growth. One influencer each week is also invited to write a column that takes a closer look at the issue.

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It used to be said that there is no Democratic or Republican way to fill a pothole, the implication being that certain core functions of government must be fulfilled without regard to partisanship. But the hyper-polarization that has poisoned American politics has now forced us to reconsider that old axiom. In 2019, it now appears that there are partisan ways to fight wildfires.

Opinion

Earlier this week, California politicians from both parties called for beleaguered utility PG&E to increase spending on fire monitoring and prevention measures. The difference was where they would get the money to pay for the upgrades. Not surprisingly, the politicians looked for solutions that reinforced their parties’ respective agendas. A Democratic Congressman proposed the elimination of a tax break on PG&E for giving bonuses to their executives. Two Republican legislators called for the suspension of the state’s clean energy mandates. Both proposals were immediately and predictably dismissed by critics on the other side of the aisle.

This is not to criticize elected officials in either party for proposing bills that reflect their ideological priorities: that’s the way politics is supposed to work. But there was a time when the two parties might have instead tried to negotiate a bipartisan solution to this real-world threat.

DanSchnur Photo
Dan Schnur

Democrats want to fight climate change, as they should. Republicans want to fight higher taxes, as they should. Both have compelling reasons on which to base their principles. But compromise requires giving something up in order to get something in return, a concept that has become a lost art in contemporary politics.

Today’s Sacramento Bee includes four op-ed pieces jointly written by, in some cases, traditional adversaries on the topics of education, health care, energy, the environment, housing and transportation. We asked these smart policy advocates to work together across traditional ideological boundaries to identify areas of potential agreement. They didn’t pretend to agree on everything, or even on most things. But they did find some common ground. If only their examples were noted – and imitated – by our political representatives in Sacramento and in Washington.

Dan Schnur, a veteran analyst and longtime participant in California politics, is director of the California Influencers series for McClatchy.
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