Dan Walters

By Dan Walters
January 14, 2016 3:39 PM

  • Internal rivalries bubbling to surface
  • Enviros target moderate Democrats
  • Legislative leaders on the spot

There’s nothing like a family feud to expose jealousies and rivalries that have been percolating for years.

The Capitol’s Democrats are on the verge of erupting into one of their periodic internal wars, akin to the nasty power struggles that dislodged leaders of both legislative houses in 1980, or the infamous “Gang of 5” revolt against Assembly Speaker Willie Brown seven years later.

Legislative term limits, passed by voters in 1990, were a safety valve that prevented such blowups by compelling regular turnover. But with the modification of term limits four years ago, there’s much less turnover, so advancing personal or ideological agendas now requires changing the status quo.

A classic example is occurring in San Diego, as outgoing Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins challenges Sen. Marty Block’s bid for a second term, accusing Block of reneging on a promise to quit after one term.

More significant, however, is a looming effort by environmental activists to take out at least two Democrats identified with the Assembly’s moderate bloc that stalled a major proposal to curb gasoline consumption.

It’s a new front in the decades-long conflict that pits business groups against environmentalists, labor unions, personal injury attorneys and consumer groups.

Each year, the four liberal groups push bills opposed by the business groups. Led by the California Chamber of Commerce and aided by the “top two” primary system, the business coalition has adroitly intervened to elect enough moderate Democrats to the Assembly to thwart many, if not most, business-opposed bills.

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