Cheryl Brown

Assemblywoman Cheryl Brown (D-San Bernardino), right, speaks at a town hall meeting at San Bernardino Valley College flanked by members of the Assembly’s moderate Democratic caucus. (Christine Mai-Duc)

Christine Mai-Duc
March 12, 2016

What happens when a Democratic lawmaker strays from party leaders on a key piece of Gov. Jerry Brown’s policy agenda? One assemblywoman who held back support for a sweeping climate-change bill last year is starting to find out.

Rep. Cheryl Brown (D-San Bernardino) was among a group of business-aligned Democrats who objected to a provision in the bill, SB 350, that would have cut California’s motor vehicle petroleum use in half by 2030.

Now Brown, a moderate, is facing what could be a bruising reelection fight against an intraparty challenger from the left, attorney Eloise Gomez Reyes. The race raises a question: What does it mean to be a Democrat in San Bernardino, where concerns over jobs often compete with those about the environment?

Some early signs indicate Brown could be in trouble. Protesters have shown up at her local events. Some of her supporters have defected, endorsing Reyes early in the fight.

“Do you ever feel that something is not going quite right?” Brown said in a recent phone interview. “They are after me, and I still don’t know why. I don’t know who ‘they’ are. But I will find out soon.”

Last week, Brown’s suspicions began to crystallize when a dozen students in breathing masks from San Bernardino Valley College threw themselves on the floor of a town hall meeting she hosted.

Brown was there to discuss the region’s logistics industry and its vast network of trucking and distribution centers, which deliver everything from headphones to heads of lettuce to big-box retailers and Amazon customers throughout Southern California.

At the event, Brown supporter John Husing, an economist with the Inland Empire Economic Partnership, discussed SB 350’s scrapped petroleum provision, which was removed after Brown and other Democrats objected to its inclusion. Husing came to Brown’s aid, arguing that lower-income families might have been harmed by potential rising energy costs that may have resulted from implementation of the provision.

“That’s fine if you live in San Francisco and can afford a Tesla,” said Husing. “It’s not fine if you’re a poor family living in downtown San Bernardino … and the folks that stopped that deserve a welcome thanks.”

A group of twenty-somethings interrupted him, calling Brown “a corporate hack.” They held up signs that read “People over Profits” and “Don’t Sell Us Out.”
They are after me, and I still don’t know why. I don’t know who ‘they’ are. But I will find out soon. — Assemblywoman Cheryl Brown (D-San Bernardino) on her race for reelection

But as the business community comes to Brown’s defense, a handful of local unions that endorsed Brown in 2014 have thrown their weight behind Reyes, including the Central Labor Council of the AFL-CIO of Riverside-San Bernardino, which represents more than 289,000 workers in the Inland Empire. An online campaign has highlighted the thousands of dollars Brown has accepted from oil companies.

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