"I am disappointed by Mark Leno's challenge of a fellow Democrat with Carole's experience, accomplishments and skill,'' said Perata, who warned that all 25 Senate Democrats "will vigorously defend Sen. Migden. To get her, Mark must come over us.'' -- Senate Leader Don Perata, March 17, 2007

San Francisco Assemblyman Mark Leno is used to facing opposition from corporate and other special interests opposed to his progressive bills. But now Leno faces a new adversary: State Senator Leader Don Perata, who is preventing action on nearly all of Leno’s bills in a cynical attempt to “help” fellow Senator Carole Migden rebuff Leno’s June 2008 primary challenge. Thanks to the Perata-Migden agenda, Leno-sponsored bills to provide additional educational assistance to foster youth (AB 1578), to help students pass the California High School Exit Exam (AB 1482), to reduce fire threats from toxic chemicals in furniture (AB 706), to reduce teen pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases (AB 1511), and to foster solar energy (AB 1451) are all being suspended in the State Senate. Migden and Perata are even preventing passage of a bill (AB 1590) to raise millions for San Francisco city services, despite its support from such Migden constituents as the City and County of San Francisco, the SF Labor Council, and the SF Chamber of Commerce.

As Don Perata made clear to the San Francisco Chronicle on March 17th, he cares more about preventing Assemblymembers from challenging incumbent State Senators than he does about serving people’s needs. Now Perata and Migden have combined to fulfill the Senate Leader’s pledge to stop Mark Leno’s attempts to help the people of California, even to the point of directly damaging Carole Migden’s own constituents.

For the first time in his legislative career, Assembly member Mark Leno has seen his bills hit a roadblock in the Democratic-controlled State Senate. Most of these bills have a long list of supporters and little or no organizational opposition---yet Perata has assigned them to the Senate Appropriations or Revenue and Taxation Suspense files to ensure that Leno does not get credit for passing any legislation prior to the June 2008 Senate primary.

Incredibly, the Migden-Perata machinations even extend to denying San Francisco the right to vote on enacting a vehicular license fee. Even the SF Chamber of Commerce supports this legislation (AB 1590), which could bring an estimated $90 million dollars to San Francisco’s cash-strapped public transit system, help rebuild our public housing, improve city parks, and otherwise improve and enhance city services.

Perata argued that this vital bill should first be studied by a committee, which would then hold a January 2008 hearing on the issue. But San Francisco voters already expressed support for reinstating the license fee in November 2004, and a similar Leno bill passed the Legislature only to be vetoed by Schwarzenegger.

What further “study” of AB 1590 is needed?

It apparently meant nothing to Migden that San Francisco voters support the vehicular license fee in a state initiative, and that the City and County, the Labor Council, and Chamber of Commerce all support the measure.

It’s not just San Franciscans who should be alarmed at the Perata-Migden stalling of important legislation. The Los Angeles Times wrote an editorial on September 5 regarding Leno’s AB 706, which modifies a law that requires upholstery to include flame-retardant chemicals. According to the Times:

The problem is that the chemicals are toxic; the bill would change standards to bar use of those substances. This cost-neutral bill should be easy to pass, but it's stuck in the Senate Appropriations Committee. It's technically too late to move it to the floor, but the proposal is important enough for a rule waiver or one of the other maneuvers that lawmakers use all the time. (Emphasis added)

Why is this critical safety bill “stuck”? So that Perata and Migden can prevent Mark Leno from telling primary voters that he sponsored legislation to prevent furniture from causing house fires.

Unfortunately, AB 706 is not the only Leno bill whose attempt to increase health and safety has hit the Perata-Migden roadblock.

Leno’s AB 1358, the Complete Streets Act, would require planners of roadways to accommodate the needs of bicyclists, pedestrians, individuals with disabilities, and public transportation. Despite this bill’s co-sponsorship by the AARP and support from a huge statewide coalition of bicycle groups, Perata and Migden have kept the bill bottled up n the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The same goes for Leno’s AB 1472, which would authorize the California Department of Public Health to award grants to local health agencies and community organizations to ensure that land-use planning decisions benefit, and do not worsen, community health.

This measure, which could play a key role in fostering environmental justice, is backed by a diverse statewide coalition that includes both the California Medical Association and the California Nurses Association.

One would think that any bill that has both those groups on the same side would pass through the Legislature in a heartbeat, particularly since the American Cancer Society is also on board. But even though two communities represented by State Senator Carole Migden---the City and County of San Francisco and County of Marin---and Perata’s own Alameda County support AB 1472, the bill has been suspended to deny Leno a legislative victory.

There is something terribly, terribly wrong with this picture.

Californians, and San Franciscans in particular, are losing the benefit of important laws because a single state senator does not want her challenger to get any credit for their passage. Forget about democracy and holding politicians accountable: Perata and Migden believe that saving individual political careers is far more important than serving constituents’ needs.

My own sense is that the Perata-Migden strategy will backfire. When voters around the state learn about Perata’s misuse of his Senate power, they will be more likely to vote against the term-limits initiative in February, which is designed to give Perata another four years.

This is on top of the backroom language change Perata inserted into the initiative to give him 14 years as a Senator when current state law authorizes only eight.

Migden has political problems that stopping Leno’s efforts to help his district will not erase. This includes her endangering the lives of fellow drivers on Highway 80, illegal transfer of $1 million in campaign funds, and her decision to leave a powerful appropriations post to work on Steve Westly’s 2006 gubernatorial campaign.

Given her political vulnerability, it is understandable that her Senate colleagues would want to come to her aid. But the way to help Migden is to get her bills passed, not by preventing her constituents from benefiting from Leno’s legislation.

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