Tom Fulks

Republicans are minor-leaguers in Sacramento, and Cunningham wants to join the team

Jordan Cunningham’s election to the state Assembly would ensure the Central Coast’s continued political irrelevance in Sacramento.
Jordan Cunningham’s election to the state Assembly would ensure the Central Coast’s continued political irrelevance in Sacramento.

There are two powerful parties in the California Legislature: moderate Democrats and liberal Democrats.

Republicans have long been minor-leaguers in the state Capitol, swinging wiffle bats at fastballs.

Republican Jordan Cunningham wants to join this hapless team in the Assembly, continuing the Central Coast’s long-standing can’t-get-no-respect act in Sacramento.

Cunningham would be a junior member of a minority party, representing a place long ignored by majority Democrats who cater to their own party’s districts. His election would ensure our continued political irrelevance.

Should he win, bet that Cunningham would do what most Republicans do in the Legislature: not much, except dogmatically oppose spending and push tax cuts. That’s worked out just swell in red states such as Kansas, where tax-cut fever has produced near-permanent budget crises.

Cunningham’s predictable party-line opposition to, say, state highway funding would come straight from his party’s masters. Dare support raising urgently needed road revenue, he’d be deemed “Republican in Name Only,” relegated to a mop-closet office in the basement.

Him opposing new state highway funding would be hypocritically vexatious.

Locally, Cunningham opposes Measure J on San Luis Obispo County’s November ballot. It calls for a half-cent sales tax hike to pay for road maintenance and congestion relief projects.

Measure J would make us a “self-help” county — like other counties that cover 84 percent of California’s population. Generating some local cash is our only chance of competing for what meager road scraps Sacramento doles out.

Cunningham and his ilk would leave us irresponsibly, disastrously short of both state and local road money. Although the Pothole Caucus may appeal to tea party extremists, it’s bad for business.

That’s why supporters of Measure J include a clutch of local contractors, developers, engineers, product suppliers, ag interests and tourism industry leaders.

As a junior member of a minority party, it’s practically assured Cunningham would spend most of his time in the Legislature raising money for re-election, as opposed to getting meaningful legislation passed.

Republicans in Sacramento rarely, if ever, pass meaningful legislation. They lack the political muscle. Donald Trump must suppose them weak.

Democrats are to California’s Legislature what Republicans are to U.S. Congress — the majority party controlling the agenda and money.

California Democrats hold both chambers — and the Governor’s Office. Good or bad, they get things done, unlike Congress, which does nothing — except take vacations.

Within the Democratic Party in Sacramento, there are fiscal conservatives, known as the “Mod Dem Caucus,” and liberals, known as liberals.

United on social issues, they divide on business vs. labor issues, coast vs. inland expenditures, urban vs. rural interests and taxation vs. spending priorities.

Pro-business Democrat Dawn Ortiz-Legg, running for the 35th Assembly seat, would fit seamlessly into the Mod Dem Caucus. She’d have an immediate policy impact and increase her political stock in short order, unlike a newbie Republican like Cunningham.

Ortiz-Legg would join a Mod Dem Caucus whose power is ascending. In August, the Assembly passed Senate Bill 32, extending the Global Warming Solutions Act until 2030.

It requires steep cuts in the state’s carbon emissions via a carbon cap-and-trade program, increased renewable energy production and increased building energy efficiency.

The bill was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, but not without high drama from the Mod Dems, who withheld support for Brown’s pet bill until he and Liberal Dems agreed to a companion bill dramatically increasing legislative oversight of the Air Resources Board, which chiefly runs California’s carbon emissions reduction programs.

This was a major concession, a transfer of executive power to the Legislature, brought about by Mod Dems partly credited with helping create 63,000 new jobs in California in August — 42 percent of that month’s U.S. total.

This is exactly the kind of pro-business legislation Republicans claim to want but can’t deliver. Why we’d send another powerless Republican to represent the 35th District in Sacramento is inexplicable.

Cunningham and his party are virtually superfluous to the political, business, social and environmental dynamics of California.

He’d blend with his party’s peers, though, who remain the only climate-change deniers in state elective office.

He denies being a denier, sort of. In a recent letter to the editor, Cunningham complained I had erroneously labeled him such.

His letter didn’t acknowledge climate change. Rather, it stated the obvious fact that the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant doesn’t produce carbon emissions.

Such non sequitur dodges might suit him as a back-bencher on a wiffle ball team in a Legislature controlled by hardballers. But in California’s Mod Dem vs. Liberal Dem two-party system, Cunningham would be out of his league.

Liberal columnist Tom Fulks is a former reporter and opinion writer. He has been a political campaign consultant for many local races. His column runs in The Tribune every other Sunday, in rotation with conservative columnist Matthew Hoy.