By Anthony York and Nicholas Riccardi, Los Angeles Times
September 10, 2011, 6:15 p.m.

Reporting from Sacramento— Democrats have more control of California government than they’ve had in nearly a decade, yet in the legislative session that ended early Saturday, they made some very Republican-like moves.

The Legislature the Democrats dominate passed bills that would ease environmental rules on some developers and order bureaucrats to be more business-friendly. And after battling for months to raise taxes, Democrats championed tax cuts for small companies.

Some of the moves were incremental, and business won, as usual, far fewer victories than Democrats’ traditional labor allies. But the pro-business gestures abruptly scrambled the political dynamics in the state.

Industry groups that often fight Democrats stood by them while Republicans, who have barely any voice remaining in Sacramento, were relegated to the sidelines. The Democrats were merely offering, the Republicans protested, weaker versions of ideas they’ve promoted for years.

The shift is a combination of politics and necessity. The party’s governor, Jerry Brown, prides himself on fiscal restraint, and most Republicans have moved so far right that even business groups can’t reach them on some key issues. Democrats have seized the moment to try to co-opt some of the minority party’s trademark positions and keep the GOP, in the words of one legislative staffer, “seven layers below irrelevant.”

But the biggest factor is the economy. “The recession is forcing the Legislature to prioritize jobs above all else,” said Assemblyman Charles Calderon (D-Whittier).

Jobs were the explanation Democrats gave for virtually everything this year, including measures that would speed the resolution of environmental lawsuits against select development projects and Brown’s $1-billion tax plan, which died in the final moments Saturday. Democrats also said a measure to convert up to 100,000 child-care workers into dues-paying union members was a jobs program.

Democrats did push through bills opposed by business interests.

They passed a measure to prevent supermarkets from selling liquor at automated checkout machines, a cause pursued by unions representing grocery workers. And they sent to Brown a bill that would require superstores to demonstrate that if they opened new branches, the local economy, parks, playgrounds and day-care centers would not be harmed.

And labor was still the main beneficiary of Democrats’ legislative clout. In addition to the child-care measure, the party muscled through other last-minute bills that would make it easier for farmworkers to organize and harder for cities to void union contracts through bankruptcy.

Republicans contended that the bills showed the Democrats’ jobs rhetoric to be hollow. During debate on whether to aid the developer of a proposed Los Angeles football stadium that unions said would spur jobs, Assemblywoman Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield) fumed that other businesses had begged for similar help and never received it.

“The way you pick winners and losers is through the unions who tell you guys what to do,” she told legislators across the aisle, who ruled her out of order.

Dan Schnur, director of USC’s Unruh Institute of Politics, said Democrats still clearly consider labor their top priority. But there’s been significant movement “on issues where business and labor agree,” he said.

“There’s tremendous pressure on these members to do something to look like they’re creating jobs,” he said, so they’re acting where labor and business interests converge.

Democrats found several such areas. Acknowledging complaints that companies flee California because of onerous regulations, they passed a bill that would require state authorities to consider the effect on business of any future rule. Some Republicans joined in.

To read entire story, click here.