California Gov. Jerry Brown has delivered a whole lot of wins to progressives this week.
The Golden State Democrat has already approved one the country’s toughest gender pay gap bills. He signed a law to curb racial profiling. He enacted a very controversial right-to-die law. Most recently, on Wednesday, he said yes to an aggressive climate change bill.
“It’s been a very good week for progressives in California,” said Eddie Kurtz, the executive director of the Courage Campaign, a progressive grassroots advocacy group in the Golden State. “But we’re not quite done yet.”
Indeed, there are several pieces of legislation that the three-time Democratic presidential candidate must still weigh in on that Californians and politicos are eagerly keeping their eyes on. That includes a so-called “motor voter” bill that would automatically add eligible voters to the state's registration rolls when they go to the Department of Motor Vehicles. There’s also an online privacy bill that would mandate law enforcement agencies get warrants before accessing digital communications.
Larry Gerston, a political science professor at San Jose State University, said Brown’s latest moves are a continuation of the panoply of progressive social issues the governor has taken up during his tenure. It may also be an indication that the state is getting more socially liberal. “California is increasingly blue and as the state becomes increasingly blue on social issues, and some degree economic issues, the state continues to set trends.” So perhaps it's no surprise that Brown -- once dubbed "Governor Moonbeam" -- would continue shifting left along with the state he governs.
Others, like Kurtz, argue Brown hasn’t been as progressive as activists would have liked – pointing to the governor’s agencies' past opposition to a bill to raise the minimum wage in the state and past rejection of a ban on fracking. Still, they seem pleased with this week's progress, which has the potential to direct the progressive agenda at the national level, too.
The gender gap wage bill Brown signed mandates that workers of either gender who do “substantially similar jobs” be paid the same rate, even if the job title is different. A big part of the law protects female workers from retaliation if they ask how much men in their workplace are getting paid, take that information to their bosses and ask them to prove it’s based on seniority or merit—and not gender.
The law aimed at decreasing racial profiling requires police to record and make public the race of the person they stopped, why they were stopped, and if it resulted in an arrest. While critics say the legislation amounts to simply more paperwork and expenses, it was heralded by many in the “Black Lives Matter” movement. Unlike the gender wage bill, it was not clear how Brown would act. Kurtz recounted a Brown staffer telling him “it would take an act of God for him to sign it.”
It also was not clear if Brown would approve the so called right-to-die bill, which allows physician-assisted deaths for the terminally ill if they have less than six months to live and are mentally competent. While several medical, disability and religious groups railed against the legislation, Brown -- who at one point considered becoming a Jesuit priest -- said the decision for him was personal.
“I do not know what I would do if I were dying in prolonged and excruciating pain,” he said in a letter to state lawmakers. “I am certain, however, that it would be a comfort to be able to consider the options afforded by this bill.”
The climate change bill calls for making half of the state’s electricity come from renewable sources by 2030. However, to the disappointment of environmentalists and progressives, a measure to cut gasoline use in motor vehicles by 50% over the next 15 years was taken out due to lobbying from oil companies, Republicans and moderate Democrats.
Whether Brown's big week ends up being a lasting and comprehensive win for progressives depends on the next few days. Brown could certainly build on his progressive push -- or kneecap it. The governor’s office did not respond to a request for comment on how and when he’ll weigh in on the motor voter and online privacy bills.
Gerston said Brown, the longest-serving governor in state history, “strikes me as a person who wants to be remembered as a more reflective individual, more conscious of his surroundings, more compassionate about the world around him and more aware of the dangers we face.” To what extent that legacy-building affects Brown's decisions this week, as he moved toward the end of his last term in office, will be revealed in time.