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Capitol Round-Up: Senate Democrats Approve New Leader


Democrats in the California state Senate have chosen a new leader, as current President Pro Tem Kevin de León terms out at the end of the year and runs for U.S. Senate.

Toni Atkins will be the first female Senate leader, the first openly gay Senate leader, and the first Senate leader in more than a century to previously hold the top leadership role in the Assembly.

Her most prominent legislation during her first year in the Senate include a key piece of last year’s housing deal, which adds a fee on some real estate transactions to subsidize affordable housing projects. She also co-authored a measure to establish statewide single-payer health care.

Atkins will take over on March 21st, after a vote of the full Senate.

Former Republican Assembly Leader Again Advocating Party Changes

The former top Republican in the California Assembly is doubling down on the strategy that got him deposed last year.

Republican Assemblyman Chad Mayes lost his job as party leader after working with Democrats on a cap-and-trade bill to address climate change. Mayes insists the measure was an example of working across party-lines to push conservative governing principles.

“What we put together was a market-based system,” Mayes says. “Cap-and-trade was a Republican idea.”

The former Assembly Republican leader argues the fury from party activists and lawmakers that followed that vote and led to his removal is symptomatic of a wider problem—one that’s led the GOP’s power to slip in the state and the party’s voter registration to fall to just 26 percent.

“It’s our approach,” Mayes says. “It’s the way that we talk to people. Screaming and yelling and being angry at folks—having contempt for people who don’t believe like you do—is not a winning strategy.”

Mayes doesn’t mention President Trump by name, but says the party must offer messaging and policies appealing to California voters that the campaign lost in 2016, including minorities, young people, and women.

“For some reason, we allowed ourselves to step back from the environment—that was originally a Republican idea,” says Assemblyman Rocky Chavez. “Investment in education used to be a Republican idea, why did we step away from that?”

Chavez, who also supported the cap-and-trade measure, joined Mayes for the announcement of the launch of a political group, called New Way California, which they say will promote conservative policies on issues such as poverty and education, but also bipartisan compromise.

Other political backers include former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Republican political consultant Mike Madrid, who is helping former Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a Democrat, with his campaign for governor. None of the four endorsed President Trump’s candidacy.

Ben Bradford

Former State Government Reporter

As the State Government Reporter, Ben covered California politics, policy and the interaction between the two. He previously reported on local and state politics, business, energy, and environment for WFAE in Charlotte, North Carolina.  Read Full Bio 

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