Proposition 23, AB32 and California Politics

By Dan Heffernan

Its going to be an interesting November.

Polls show huge gains by the minority republican party nationwide.  Incumbent Senator Barbara Boxer is fighting for her political life in a tough race against Carly Fiorina.  Jerry Brown is looking for another reign as California’s governor, after a few decades “break”.   And Californians have the opportunity to vote on Proposition 23.

Proposition 23, funded primarily by oil companies Tesoro, Occidental and Valero, would effectively dismantle California’s 2006 history-making climate bill, AB32, which mandates a 25% reduction in the state’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.  An ambitious plan, to be sure, and one that would institute a combination of regulations and market mechanisms beginning in 2012, with arguably mixed, but modest impacts on jobs in the state overall.

The language of Proposition 23 imposes a freeze on all provisions of AB32 until California’s unemployment rate dips to 5.5% or below for four consecutive quarters.   This will effectively postpone AB32 forever:  unemployment in California was 12.2% in June, and has only met the conditions of Prop 23 three times in the last 40 years!

Enter, an election year.

Race for Governor: Support for AB32 tends to fall along party lines (save current California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger), and the struggle for California’s highest office is no exception.  Meg Whitman has pledged to temporarily suspend AB32 pending further analysis, and seems somewhat undecided on Proposition 23, though she admitted recently to leaning against it.  Jerry Brown has made his stance on AB32 and Proposition 23 a cornerstone of his campaign: “When I was governor, California was the world leader in renewable energy and it led the nation in efficiency standards,” said Brown. “Investing in clean energy and increasing efficiency are central elements of rebuilding our economy. (AB32) will create hundreds of thousands of jobs, build the businesses of the 21st century, increase energy independence and protect public health.”

Race for Senate: Republican Senate-hopeful Carly Fiorina calls AB32 a “job-killer” and claims its repeal would lead to more jobs in the State. Incumbent Senator Barbara Boxer falls in the opposite camp, citing a Pew Charitable Trust Study showing California’s “green job sector” added 10,000 new companies and added 25,000 new jobs over a 10-year period.  While this also includes a 5-year period prior to AB32’s passage, there’s little question that cleantech investments in California have been huge since the bill’s passage in 2006.

And its not just the high-profile races. State Senate candidates John Laird and Sam Blakeslee’s recent debate over AB32 fell along party lines, with Laird attacking Blakeslee for not supporting the measure.  Blakeslee stopped short of whole-hearted support for Proposition 23 (Republicans in general have seemed more hesitant of late to strongly embrace the initiative), but indicated his belief that AB32’s enactment would merely export non-compliant businesses (and the jobs they support) out of California.

This November, there are two fronts open against California’s AB32 – opposition candidates and an industry-backed initiative.  The climate, and California’s green economy are at stake.

It’s going to be an interesting November.


Dan Heffernan lives and works in San Francisco and is a renowned political news junkie. Check out his heavily biased political blog

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