A journalist, a lobbyist and a political consultant walk into a church.
No, it’s not the start of a questionable joke, but rather the SLO Chamber’s State of the State luncheon at Grace Church June 8.
The event brought together three Sacramento insiders for a wide-ranging conversation on state politics — from primary results and the Times Up movement to the future of the GOP in California — moderated by Sam Blakeslee, a former state legislator who founded and now runs the Institute for Advanced Technology & Public Policy at Cal Poly.
Joining Blakeslee on stage were:
- Cassandra Pye, a political and public affairs strategist with more than 30 years of insider insight into the state capitol, including a stint as deputy chief of staff to former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger
- John Myers, a top political reporter and KSBY alum who’s now the Sacramento bureau chief for the L.A. Times
- Amy Brown, a lobbyist who specializes in retirement and pension issues and former legislative representative for the California League of Cities.
Blakeslee laid some groundwork on the impact of state government, noting that while Washington may pass about a hundred bills in a given year, Gov. Jerry Brown signed more than 800 pieces of legislation in the last year.
“Sacramento is hugely impactful in our lives,” Blakeslee said, reminding the audience that the state’s economy is the fifth-largest in the world, larger Italy, France and many other countries.
Some highlights from the conversation:
California’s “jungle primary”: For all the hype and hand-wringing, “it looked kind of like a regular primary,” Myers said, adding that an Orange County district went blue for the first time since Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Incoming governor’s top challenges: Pressing issues for the governor elected in November — assumed to be Gavin Newsom — include pensions, housing and CEQA, which is often used to block new development, the panelists said.
The list feels familiar, Blakeslee said: “Eight years ago, it was CEQA and pensions. Eight years later, a reboot, and here we are again,” leading Myers to note that “politics in the Capitol are too hard.”
Time’s Up movement: The impact is still unfolding, panelists said. Myers said that opaque public records laws mean we still don’t know how complaints are handled or what punishment looks like.
Pye hinted at fallout still to come, saying “There’s still a lot we don’t know,” while Brown said the culture in the Capitol is slowly changing as women like her feel safer to push back against inappropriate behavior without fear of retaliation.
Future of Republican party in California: California Republicans have become more of a regional party than a statewide one, in Myers’ view, though he sees opportunity for the party in economic issues such as a push to repeal the gas tax.
Pye, a Republican who calls herself an eternal optimist, is hopeful that more moderate candidates with the right messaging can win office in certain regions of the state. “I think — pray — there’s an opportunity in coalition building,” she said.