The “Great Resignation” of the Californian legislature: what’s behind it

The reasons are a combination of new constituencies, term limits and political ambition.

CALIFORNIA, USA – This story was originally published by CalMatters.

Will the last legislator in the building please turn off the light?

Driven by the convergence of tenure limits, new district boundaries, and an array of policy options outside of the state Capitol, more than a dozen California lawmakers have sought employment elsewhere.

At the last count, an exodus of 15 state MPs and senators either chose not to re-elect in November or ended mid-term. This does not include the seven members, all senators, who are not eligible for re-election in 2022 due to the legislative period deadlines. Also excluded are Republican Kelly Seyarto of Murrieta, who hopes to jump from the convention to the Senate, or Orange County Republican, Janet Nguyen, who hopes to do the same.

It’s not just the number; it is also the power and stature of those who walk.

Last week alone, the Capitol said goodbye to progressive ruler Lorena Gonzalez of San Diego, who left the congregation to take over the top position in the California Labor Federation. Then came successive announcements from Democratic Senator Connie Leyva of Chino and Rep. Patrick O’Donnell of Long Beach, both of whom said they would not run again although they have four years to serve under the term-cap law. Then, on Thursday, Rocklin Republican Rep. Kevin Kiley, who was standing on the 2021 revocation of governor, announced his candidacy for Congress.

And today, former Congregation Republican leader Chad Mayes of Rancho Mirage, who is now the only independent in the legislature, announced that he is no longer running and is considering running for Congress. “I’ve seen firsthand the dangers of partisan politics. Blind trust in political teams has created toxic tribalism that is tearing apart families, friendships, communities and this country, ”he tweeted.

All of this is causing an unusual exodus, the largest for at least seven years. In 2012, California voters passed Proposition 28, which extended the legislature’s term in both houses to a total of 12 years. This had ushered in a new era of job security for the legislature and continuity for the legislature as a whole.

But after the November elections there will be at least 22 new legislators out of a total of 120. Special elections will be held on February 15 and April 5 to fill the four already vacant seats in the assembly.

And this election year is still young: candidates have until mid-March to declare their candidacy – or not.

Some incumbents and lobbyists say this year’s changing of the guard has the potential to shake up the Capitol’s political dynamism.

When experienced legislators move on, they take their political and legislative know-how with them. O’Donnell and Leyva both serve as chairs of the K-12 education committee, and last month, congregation member Jose Medina, who chairs the congregation’s college committee, announced that 2022 would also be its final session.

“There is a risk of losing not only leaders with exceptional backgrounds and expertise, but also the people who made it possible to implement their policies,” said Jessie Ryan, lobbyist for the Campaign for College Opportunity, a nonprofit advocacy group.

Kristina Bas Hamilton, a lobbyist and adviser who represents trade unions and anti-poverty groups in Sacramento, said turnover is making things less predictable for those driving policy change and vying for support for controversial laws. For one, lawmakers who keep tabs on other races can be more prudent or more distracted.

“When there is uncertainty, no one wants to commit to big things,” she said. The premature resignation of the office holder also means a new committee leader. For political advocates who support a particular bill, it changes “the whole landscape”.

O’Donnell said his decision not to run for re-election was not politically motivated. “I’m not getting any younger … and being an elected official is not the sum of me,” he said. He plans to return to the classroom as a civics teacher.

But the fact that many of his colleagues are preparing on their way out to run for Congress or a local office will “have an impact on politics,” he said. “People are likely to be more careful with the big bills trying to make Herculean changes.”

RELATED: Unboosted: California COVID-19 Booster Rate Falls Below 40% in Most Counties

Where are everyone going

The legislature’s “great resignation” is driven by a number of political trends, all of which come to a head at roughly the same time.

A series of cancellations from Congress and changes to district lines have inspired some lawmakers to seek higher office. Such is the case with Kevin Mullin, a Democrat from San Mateo who ranks second in the pecking order of the gathering behind Speaker Anthony Rendon, who was replaced by outgoing US MP Jackie Speier.

After MP Karen Bass announced her bid for Los Angeles mayor last year, Senator Sydney Kamlager opened a Congressional fundraising committee – although she has not yet officially announced her intention to run.

The approach of tenure limits can also push some established companies into early retirement. Of the 14 legislators who have not yet sought re-election in 2022, 10 would have been ousted in 2024 anyway.

“Some of these members wanted to raise a lot of money to – what?” Said Republican strategist Matt Rexroad. “Just go on for two more years and then you have nothing obvious” [state] To run for a seat in the Senate and in Congress? “

If the throng of retirements seems large in 2022, that’s nothing compared to the next cycle, said Paul Mitchell, vice president of Political Data Inc., which provides voter tracking services for democratic campaigns. With the 12-year term in office law going into effect in 2012, “you will see all congregation sales between 2024 and 2028,” he said.

This is good news for those who make a living doing elections. “Consultants who have survived the past few years with minimal electoral activity are finally going to have some great years,” said Mitchell.

RELATED: The California Legislature Is Back: What To Expect in 2022

New cards, new politics

Perhaps the biggest factor behind the political change: The newly colored election cards of the state.

Last week, incumbent Republican MP Tom McClintock announced that he was stepping down for the new 5th last week to run former President Donald Trump’s new media business.

That left the northern part of McClintock’s old borough with no incumbent – and paved the way for Kiley to move.

When the new districts were cobbled together for the state’s 120 parliamentary and 52 congressional seats, California’s independent redistribution commission was prevented from considering an incumbent’s political perspectives. In some cases, the commission placed politically safe lawmakers in more competitive seats, deprived them of the communities they felt most connected to, or placed multiple lawmakers together in the same district.

When Gonzalez took the union job last week, she avoided the difficult decision of either running against San Diego’s Akilah Weber or moving to another district. State lawmakers, unlike members of Congress, must reside in their districts.

Likewise, Labor Master Leyva was placed in the same Inland Empire Senate district as Moderate Democratic Senator Susan Rubio. However, Leyva said her decision not to run again had nothing to do with the prospect of a costly intra-party re-election campaign.

Instead, she said the new district, which now extends into the San Gabriel Valley, no longer reflects her geographic loyalty. “My heart is in San Bernardino County,” she told CalMatters. “These are my people.”

So far, a handful of thrown together incumbents have decided to compete with a current colleague from the same party. Democratic MPs Laura Friedman and Adrin Nazarian will compete in the San Fernando Valley. Ditto, Sens. Anna Caballero of the Democratic State of Salinas and Melissa Hurtado of Sanger. And Republicans Tom Lackey and Thurston Smith will vie for the same high-altitude desert district that stretches from Lancaster to the Nevada border.

When asked about the prospect of running against a colleague and party member, Smith quoted Ronald Reagans as saying “11. Commandment ”so as not to speak ill of a Republican. “Be polite. Let’s talk about the problems, ”he said. For his part, Lackey described the match-up as “awkward” but said there was nothing personal about the race.

He also rejected the idea that this would affect his votes in the legislature: “I’ll still be the same guy I was before”.

And for those incumbents who choose not to fight or leave, there’s the Evan Low approach. After being stuck in the same assembly district with Los Altos MP Marc Berman, the Cupertino Democrat decided to end things with a mock pillow fight – before announcing he would be moving to a neighboring district to re-elect.

Moving is not for everyone. Fullerton Senator Josh Newman has been transferred to the same district along with his Orange County Democrat Senator Dave Min. Since the Senate’s terms of office are four years and both were elected in 2020, they will not have to decide how to proceed until 2024.

Newman has already ruled out the possibility of clearing the impasse by moving.

“I can only imagine this conversation,” he said. “I say to my wife: ‘Hey, I have this great idea!’ And she would say, ‘Hey, take care. Keep in touch.'”

CalMatters reporter Mikhail Zinshteyn contributed to this story.

Comments are closed.