Will Tea Party Democrats Destroy California HSR?
By Robert Cruickshank
Two of Southern California’s leading right-wing talk radio hosts, John and Ken, are now trying to gather signatures to put an anti-high speed rail initiative on the ballot. Since it’s too late to gather signatures for a November 2012 ballot measure, I am going to laugh at this effort, at least for the time being. The soonest it could get on the ballot is 2014, and by then steel will already be in the ground.
That is, unless the State Senate stops the project dead in its tracks next week. It’s getting down to the wire and as Dan Walters explains, we’re not yet at 21 votes:
The state Assembly would surely vote for Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan to begin building a north-south bullet train in the San Joaquin Valley – but the Senate, where party discipline is much weaker, is proving to be a tougher political nut to crack.
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg has publicly pledged to approve construction funds and wants a vote next week. Just weeks ago, Senate approval appeared certain, but with Republicans solidly opposed, Steinberg needs support from 20 of the 24 other Democratic senators. At the moment, the votes aren’t there.
Three Democrats – Mark DeSaulnier, Alan Lowenthal and Joe Simitian – have been openly skeptical of the project. At least three others, and likely more, are unconvinced and uncommitted, vote counters say.
DeSaulnier, Lowenthal, and Simitian are all Democrats, but at times they sound like members of the Tea Party – convinced that the rail project is not going to generate riders, that it isn’t needed, that it will be a waste of money. These Tea Party Democrats have been spending all of 2012 (and in the case of Simitian and Lowenthal, a lot longer) trying to defund this high speed rail project.
They want to put $3.3 billion in immediate federal stimulus in jeopardy. Like Tea Party Republican governors in Wisconsin, Ohio and Florida, or Tea Party Republicans in Congress, these Tea Party Democrats believe that stimulus and jobs aren’t needed, that spending money on bullet trains is too much of a risk to state budgets to be worth taking. Never mind the fact that the independent peer review found the ridership numbers to be sound and that HSR systems around the world are profitable.
President Barack Obama has a lot at stake in this vote. Republicans, including Mitt Romney and Darrell Issa, want to argue that high speed rail is a wasteful project, a transportation version of Solyndra. If Tea Party Democrats in the State Senate kill the California HSR, they will be giving Romney a major boost. Republicans can say “even California Democrats think Obama’s HSR plan is wasteful.” Why would DeSaulnier, Simitian, and Lowenthal undermine their president like that?
California’s Congressional Democratic delegation has called for funding HSR and Nancy Pelosi is putting intense pressure on the State Senate to release the voter-approved bond funds. The Obama Administration is doing the same, and has made it clear that the $3.3 billion in stimulus cannot be moved out of the Central Valley, as Lowenthal would like.
Will the State Senate support President Obama, stimulus, jobs, and California’s sustainable future? Or will they side with Tea Party Democrats, with Tea Party Republicans, John and Ken, Mitt Romney, Darrell Issa, John Boehner, and those who want to hold California back in the past, shackled to high oil prices and pollution? We’re going to find out, and soon.
Robert Cruickshank is the former Chairman of Californians for High Speed Rail and is still a board member of that organization. He also writes on California politics at Calitics.com. You can follow him on Twitter @cruickshank. This article originally appeared on the California High Speed Rail blog.