Great angst has broken out in the northern part of the state because, for the first time in decades, it appears that the top leadership positions in both houses of the Legislature are going to be filled by Southern Californians. Assemblywoman Tony Atkins of San Diego was just elected Assembly Speaker and State Sen. Kevin de Leon of Los Angeles is poised to become the next Senate President pro Tempore. The truth is that it doesn’t matter.
In San Francisco and northern environs, Los Angeles is viewed as The Great Satan. Well, here’s a little secret: San Diegans don’t think much of LA either. Like New York, Greater Los Angeles is a bigger-than-life megalopolis that triggers lots of negative feelings among its neighbors – north and south. Just as there is the famous Anywhere But California syndrome in Congress when it comes to divvying up the federal pie, there’s as much sentiment in the halls of the Capitol that Los Angeles shouldn’t be allowed to gobble up all of the goodies.
Sure, there’s the water issue where the north-south divide matters. But there are many battle fronts in the water wars: farmers versus conservationists, urban versus rural, developers versus environmentalists, residential users versus industrial users. The list goes on and on. Water is one area where the leaders have to count votes, but they can’t control them.
If there is a meaningful political divide in California where values and interests are most likely to collide, it’s Coastal California versus Inland California . Assemblywoman Atkins’s district hugs the coast from Chula Vista up through Del Mar and is almost two-thirds white. Sen. De Leon’s district is in the San Gabriel Valley in the eastern, inland portion of L.A. County and has a majority Latino population. Not surprisingly, both are safe Democratic seats.
With Republican legislative numbers falling to near irrelevance, it’s the mix of perspectives and constituencies in the Democratic caucuses that shape legislative maneuvering in Sacramento. Aside from water, it’s hard to think about a major issue that is defined by north-south sentiment. Pension reform, health care, prison overcrowding, taxes, CEQA and education are not longitudinal issues. Even the Bullet Train has its proponents and critics up and down the state.
For those who worry about a Southern California lock on the leadership posts, it should be remembered that Sen. De Leon is termed out in 2018 and Assemblywoman Atkins can run for only one more two-year term. In the meantime, the folks up north should take solace in the fact that six of the eight statewide constitutional offices are held by northerners.
Douglas Jeffe is a Los Angeles based public affairs consultant.