SAN DIEGO -- Whether it’s Trump, Clinton, Sanders or Cruz, when it comes to politics, the presidential race gets almost all the headlines. But much of what the candidates promise never gets done. Most of the legislation that really affects San Diegans happens on the city and state level.
Throughout 2016, we’re going to track the biggest issues facing not just San Diego, but all of California. We’ll talk with leaders from across the state, pour through proposed laws and break down page after page of legalese to let you know what will really affect your life.
We’ll do stories on specific issues, from the raging debate over gun control to how the controversial bullet train could completely change how and where we live.
We’ll tackle serious issues that don’t sound very serious but are. For instance, did you know there is actually a proposed law this year regulating a certain type of selfie?
Our tour guide effort is Thad Kousser
. He’s worked in the state legislature, but now he’s a political science professor at UC San Diego. He’s written several books on politics and helped shape California’s most recent term-limit reform, and he also trains future political staff members.
Before we spend the rest of the year diving into each issue, here’s an overview of the major battles in Sacramento this year that will affect you:
“The biggest battle that’s going to dominate this legislative session is what to do with our budget,” Kousser says.
Well, of course. That’s not much of surprise—the budget is a big battle every year. But Kousser points out that this year is actually different, thanks to California’s surplus.
“Normally, the fight in a budget is, ‘Boy, we have to make big cuts. We have less money than we thought.’ Now we have much more money than we thought—a few billion dollars. But that’s going to lead to fights that are just as vicious,” Kousser predicts.
That’s because the battle in Sacramento could very well pit popular Democratic governor Jerry Brown
against the majorities of his own party in the legislature. While most if not all politicians take credit for anything good that happens under their watch, also focus on their own pet projects, Brown says he’s focused on California’s future, long after he’s termed out of office.
Rather than restore funding to programs cut during the most recent recession, Brown wants extra money dedicated to the state’s rainy day fund. Kousser explains Brown’s thinking, saying “This is California. It’s the boom-or-bust cycle. We know our budget’s going to be in trouble in the next few years. We need to be stingy now to save for the future.”
On the heels of the terror attack in San Bernardino, there is already an effort underway to enact stricter gun laws in California.
Even though the legislature has only been in session for a few weeks, several bills have already been introduced. Because gun control is often a less contentious issue in California than most other states, the rest of the country will be watching to see what our state does.
Kousser thinks rather than tackle guns themselves, much of the effort will go towards the ammunition.
“California will move to things like potentially registering ammunition and requiring background checks for ammunition.”
“Every electronic toy that we got for Christmas, the California legislature is going to have to deal with,” Kousser jokes.
He’s only slightly exaggerating. The explosion in the popularity of drones has lawmakers racing to catch up.
“However many people ended up with a drone in front of their Christmas tree this year, they’re all going to be paying attention to this legislation, right? ‘Am I going to have to register this with the FAA? Am I going to be able to take pictures with this, or am I going to be accused of invading someone’s privacy? Or, if I’m flying in a plane, how am I going to make sure that drone is not going to hit me?’”
Technology is complicated for lawmakers because, usually, its use spreads quicker than lawmakers can regulate. That means problems often crop up before the legislature even understands the issue.
Drones at first looked like a small and harmless hobby. But now bigger concerns have been raised, such as how drones can interfere with public safety during fires and law-enforcement situations.
DAILY FANTASY SPORTS
Another area in which lawmakers are being pressed into action on a topic, which has only recently taken center stage, is the controversy over daily fantasy sports websites such as FanDuel and DraftKings.
“These weekly fantasy football games are something where the private sector got way out in front of the public sector, right?” Kousser says.
“It was every TV ad during a football game before attorneys general knew what this was. And so now state politicians are looking at this and saying ‘This is gambling. We’re having legalized gambling in our state. In effect, what do we do about that? Can we do anything about it?’”
Because of the uncertainty, tens of thousands of players don’t know if their favorite game is legal. It’s such a contentious issue, it was one of the first tackled this year by the State Assembly, on just the third day of the new session. Attorney General Kamala Harris is investigating Daily Fantasy’s legality in California, so expect this to be one of the first areas in which legislation gets passed in 2016.
These are just a few of the many issues affecting your life that are being debated right now in Sacramento. And that short list doesn’t include other major issues, such as California’s drought and housing crises, the controversial bullet train, the environmental health disaster in Porter Ranch, and the debate over funding for California schools and colleges.
You get the idea: we’ve got a lot of stuff to work out in California. That’s why we’re breaking down these key issues for you here on 10News.com.
Let’s wrap up this primer with a positive message from Professor Kousser. During our conversation, 10News asked him a cynical question: From his experience in Sacramento, how many lawmakers are more interested in their own political careers and raising money, than in actually helping the Californians they represent?
“The perks of being a California state legislator really aren’t that great,” Kousser responded. “The pay is higher than most state legislatures, but lower than most businesses. You have to be up in Sacramento day after day, week after week. And so the only thing that really drives the people to knock on the door of so many voters, to ask for so much money to run, is that these people genuinely care passionately about the state, where it’s going, their district, how to help real, ordinary Californians.”
Will that passion be enough to get meaningful legislation passed that benefits all of us this year? Stay tuned to 10News.com in 2016 and issue by issue, we’ll find out together.
Some of the topics we've covered so far: