Sen. Jones on the politics of legislating in California – La Mesa Courier

By JEFF CLEMETSON

Sen. Brian Jones is just one of nine Republicans in the state senate — a position he describes as “working from the super minority.” Despite the relative powerlessness of his position, the Senate District 38 representative Jones reached out to La Mesa Courier to share his legislative accomplishments and reflect on the current state of partisan politics in California on a recent legislative break.

Among his accomplishments, Jones noted that he was able to move 12 bills through committees, six of which reached Gov. Newsom.

“So even the super majority Democrats agreed with me on at least six of my bills to get to the governor’s desk,” he said, adding that others bills he authored died in appropriations. “All of my bills are bipartisan, I can promise you that. If I want to get a bill to the governors desk, I need to get at least 12 Democrats to agree with me.”

Where Democrats agreed with Jones were on issues like SB 400, a bill that helps homeless students by supporting local education agencies to identify them and get the services they need.

“We want to make sure those kids aren’t slipping through the cracks,” he said.

A bill on conservatorships, SB 578, cleaned up the law governing court proceedings to ensure all courts in California know that conservatorship hearings are to be held in private unless there’s a public interest.

“That is to protect families in, a very sensitive situation when you have to commit a family member,” Jones said. “We want those to be as private and personal as possible.”

SB 549 declares social workers as essential so they can be given more access to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). As the only Republican on the Human Services Committee, Jones said he learned through an informational hearing last year that 33,000 foster kids were ready to go to adoptive homes but couldn’t because social workers couldn’t get the PPE to do the final interview or the courts were closed.

“So there’s not much I can do about the courts, but I could certainly help the social workers,” he said, adding that his bills were co-sponsored by SEIU and National Association of Social Workers. “That was an interesting situation because those aren’t two groups I normally work with, but I felt this was an important issue that needed to be covered.”

Another bill, SB 584, adds labor trafficking to a law that already addresses sex trafficking. “It’s a bill to train the foster families how to watch out for that for the sake of the foster child,” Jones said.

Two other bills that reached Gov. Newsom’s desk were code cleanups — one for regulations governing land surveyors and another for dental hygienists.

Partisan priorities

For Jones and other Republican legislators in California, bills that clean up regulatory codes or aid foster children are much easier to find support from across the isle than bills with more conservative priorities.

“One of the bills I took earlier in the year was a religion is essential bill, and that was brought to me by some very concerned constituents about Gov. Newsom’s shutdown of churches and places of worship and I certainly that felt he went too far on that and overreacted and was too tyrannical about it,” Jones said. “So I knew that was going to be a long shot. But we got a hearing in the judiciary hearing. It failed on a party line vote —two Republicans, nine Democrats.”

“It was kind of demonstrational for all Californians to realize that the majority party really towed the line with the governor with this COVID reaction and even when he went too far, the legislature wasn’t willing to reign him in and provide the checks and balances that the legislature is supposed to provide,” he continued, adding that he also co-authored a bill to end the governor’s emergency services order, but that Democrats wouldn’t allow it to come to a debate, “let alone a vote.”

Two “common sense” bills Jones authored and introduced this year died in the Assembly appropriations process, he said.

One was a bill to reinstate an exemption sticker program for off-road racing motorcycles that don’t comply with emissions standards.

“Two years ago the off-road folks came to me and said, ‘We got to fix this.’ We brought the bill up last year and it passed the assembly, but too late to get back to senate for a vote,” Jones said. “This year, we started with [the] same bill, straight forward: buy a bike, register it with a competition sticker. We haven’t figured out why it died in appropriations, but we’re going to keep working on it.”

Jones said he is confused on why it wasn’t passed because the exemption to the emission standards affects as few as 500 vehicles in the whole state, but thinks it is possible that Democrats view the bill as something that could potentially lower their voting score assessment by environmental lobbying groups.

Jones’ other bill that died in the Assembly was a “porch piracy” bill that would match rules and enforcement of thefts of packages from people’s homes.

“The bill would actually just match rules laid out by USPS and have them also apply to Amazon, FedEx and UPS deliveries,” Jones said, adding that it was nixed because of the Democratic majority’s priorities.

“Right now in Sacramento, the prevailing theory by mostly the Bay Area Democrats — some of the L.A. area Democrats, too — is they won’t do any sentencing enhancements,” Jones said. “They want to decriminalize stuff. They’re removing penalties from crimes. They saw this as increasing sentencing enhancement.”

Media, messaging and more outreach

Jones sees the problem and solution to the Republicans’ super-minority problem in California as one rooted in media, messaging and outreach.

“I don’t think that California voters, taxpayers, citizens are as lopsided as the legislature is. And the frustration that I have right now is that Californians don’t like the homeless issue, they don’t like the housing issue, they don’t like the crime issue, they don’t like the taxes and the regulations — I think those are majority viewpoints,” he said. “The criticism I have of the media is that when the media is covering these issues, the media doesn’t make the connection — and they should and they know — that these are policies coming out of Sacramento that got us where we are. We are where we are in California because of policies coming out of Sacramento. Those policies coming out of Sacramento are form the majority party, the Democrats.”

Jones added that Republicans haven’t done a good job of explaining that either and will need to make “better inroads and relationships” with the media to improve their messaging.

One messaging vulnerability for Republicans was recently laid bare during their attempt to recall Gov. Newsom. Early polling in the recall showed that the governor’s strict COVID policies and an embarrassing mask-less visit to an upscale restaurant had lessened his popularity. However, Gov. Newsom was able to easily thwart the recall with a messaging campaign tying leading Republican candidate Larry Elders to former president Donald Trump.

Jones said the Democrats’ successful strategy of tying Elders to Trump would have been used no matter who was the Republican leader in the race, including former San Diego mayor Kevin Falconer, whom Jones endorsed.

“That’s the playbook they would have played because it works in California,” he said. “Now the reason it works is because, as Republicans, we haven’t come up with a defense against it.”

— Reach editor Jeff Clemetson at jeff@sdnews.com.