In summary

The dream of progressives to make California more like Western Europe suffered a setback when two of their priority bills, including single-payer health care, stalled out in the state Assembly.

The left — or “progressive” — wing of California’s Democratic Party has a dream and believes that the state’s political structure is primed to make it reality.

The oft-expressed dream is to transform California into something like Sweden, France or the Netherlands — with an expansive array of cradle-to-the-grave services, a highly unionized green economy and, of course, the high taxes to pay for it.

With huge Democratic majorities in the Legislature and a governor lending verbal support, those on the left believe it’s a unique opportunity to advance the vision.

However the vision clashed with political reality this week as its centerpiece — creating a single-payer health care system to replace the private-public, insurance-based model now in place — stalled out in the Assembly because not enough Democrats would vote for it in an election year.

Those who had been pushing single-payer for years, hoping that a victory in California would galvanize a national system, were incensed that the author of the bill, Assemblyman Ash Kalra of San Jose, refused to take up the bill.

Assembly Bill 1400’s chief sponsor, the California Nurses Association, turned on Kalra, saying, “Nurses are especially outraged that Kalra chose to just give up on patients across the state. Nurses never give up on our patients, and we will keep fighting with our allies in the grassroots movement for CalCare until all people in California can get the care they need, regardless of ability to pay.”

CalMatters reporter Alexei Koseff revealed that Kalra later told supporters on a Zoom call, “I don’t believe it would have served the cause of getting single payer done by having the vote and having it go down in flames and further alienating members,” adding that he was short of the required 41 votes by “double digits.”

Learn more about legislators mentioned in this story

D

Ash Kalra

State Assembly, District 27 (San Jose)

State Assembly, District 27 (San Jose)

How he voted 2019-2020
Liberal Conservative
District 27 Demographics

Race/Ethnicity

Latino 45%
White 14%
Asian 35%
Black 3%
Multi-race 3%

Voter Registration

Dem 51%
GOP 15%
No party 29%
Other 4%
Campaign Contributions

Asm. Ash Kalra has taken at least $1.4 million from the Labor sector since he was elected to the legislature. That represents 52% of his total campaign contributions.

The issue created a two-way squeeze on Democratic legislators — an open threat from progressives to deny party endorsements if they didn’t back Kalra’s bill and an implied threat from opponents that a vote for it would be characterized as a support for a huge tax increase. With redistricting making election outcomes less certain, Kalra protected his colleagues by not forcing them to vote either way.

It was not the left’s only setback. Another priority bill, aimed at bolstering rent control, also died without a floor vote. The state’s Ellis Act now allows landlords to evict tenants from rent-controlled housing if they sell the property, and has long been a target of progressive activists.

Their measure, Assembly Bill 854, would have required new owners of rent-controlled housing to hold their properties for at least five years before invoking the Ellis Act. “The fact that they couldn’t even make their positions public on two major progressive priorities today, I consider that an insult to the public, honestly,” said Shanti Singh, legislative director for Tenants Together.

The only good news for progressives Monday was passage — albeit barely — of another priority measure. Assembly Bill 257 would create a European-style governmental council to set wages and working conditions for the franchised fast food industry — McDonald’s, Burger King, etc.

The proposed Fast-Food Sector Council, dominated by employees and appointees of union-friendly politicians, would bypass the traditional union organization and collective bargaining process.

If enacted, AB 257 would be a precedent for other economic sectors resistant to unionization, such as agriculture. But its fate in the state Senate is far from certain as it faces very stiff opposition from the franchise industry and the larger business community.

California may eventually make the progressives’ social democracy dream a reality, but it won’t happen anytime soon.

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Dan Walters has been a journalist for more than 60 years, spending all but a few of those years working for California newspapers. He began his professional career in 1960, at age 16, at the Humboldt Times...