Kinder, Gentler GOP Embraces ‘Cap and Trade’
Steven Greenhut
by

California Republican Assembly Leader Chad Mayes of Yucca Valley ought to be embarrassed today, and not just because of the front-page Sacramento Bee coverage about his alleged affair with former GOP Assembly Leader Kristen Olsen, who is now a Stanislaus County supervisor.

Those allegations long swirled around the Capitol. They recently made the news after a conservative blogger wrote about a letter that Olsen’s estranged husband reportedly had sent to the Assembly asking for an investigation into whether state resources were used to hide the alleged relationship. (Mr. Olsen later retracted his request, per the Bee.)

The main reason Mayes should be embarrassed is an apparent reason the blogger wrote about the allegations. Like most conservatives here, he was furious at his lack of principle. This week Mayes backed a plan to extend California’s cap-and-trade program for another decade.

The program is supposed to fight climate change, but has become a state-directed boondoggle that imposes massive new taxes on business and consumers, and creates a sea of revenues to fund the governor’s $68 billion pet bullet-train project; programs that pursue “environmental justice”; and all sorts of unrelated Democratic priorities.

This was a signature vote for Gov. Jerry Brown, who has morphed into one of those crazy preachers who prattles endlessly about the end of the world. “There’s a lot of mystery here. And there’s a lot of miracle and there’s a lot of prayer,” Brown said at a celebratory press conference, where he was flanked by legislators from both parties.

Because of the tax implications of the vote, the cap-and-trade extension needed a supermajority in both houses to move to Brown’s desk. All Senate Democrats voted for the bill. Modesto Republican Tom Berryhill — who gained a concession to repeal a rural firefighting fee — also voted for it. He’s termed out, so there was little pressure that opponents could apply to him.

The real battle was in the Assembly. Democrats have a supermajority in their caucus, but Assemblywoman Jacqui Irwin, D-Thousand Oaks, was absent because of a longstanding family commitment. Instead of giving Brown a fight — or at least exacting meaningful limits on, say, the power of the ham-fisted California Air Resources Board — the GOP made it easy. Seven members, including their leader, voted for the bill.

Republican activist Jon Fleischman, publisher of the Flashreport, pointed out the “strategic blunder” here. By voting for the cap-and-trade bill, Republicans enabled the Democratic Assembly speaker to let “three of his targeted members, who are holding seats the GOP would like to pick back up, either not vote at all or vote no,” Fleischman noted.

The Assembly GOP’s political stupidity takes some of the steam out of efforts to highlight the Democrats’ recent hike in gasoline taxes and vehicle-license fees. The tax increase is highly unpopular, even among Democratic voters. But how can the GOP make hay out of a 12 cents a gallon increase in gas taxes when the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office estimates that the cap-and-trade vote might add an additional 63 cents a gallon to gasoline prices by 2021? Even under the most favorable scenario, the LAO pegs increases of 15 cents a gallon because of this vote.

What did Mayes (and Republican Assembly members Catherine Baker of Walnut Creek, Rocky Chávez of Oceanside, Jordan Cunningham of San Luis Obispo, Heath Flora of Modesto, Devin Mathis of Visalia, and Mark Steinorth of Rancho Cucamonga) get out of the deal? This is where it becomes humiliating. Apparently, they got a bunch of photo ops and an opportunity to lecture the rest of the country about the way California Republicans are a different breed of elephant.

Chávez got to stand near the governor at the above-mentioned Capitol press conference. Mayes is pictured in the media with his arm around the governor and schmoozing with the Democratic leadership. He’s been posting congratulatory tweets from the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger and bragging about his own “leadership.”

This is nothing new. As leader, Mayes has “grown” in office, where he loves to promote bipartisanship. His “bromance” with Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Paramount, was even the subject of a news story in the Riverside Press-Enterprise. Rendon is a nice-enough guy, but there’s little common ground that conservatives can have with the state’s Democratic leadership, which has been veering far to the left in recent years.

Mayes has even tried to defend his vote for more regulations and higher taxes in the garb of Reagan-style Republicanism. He tweeted a large photo of Reagan with a quote from former Secretary of State George Shultz praising Mayes’ vote as something that would have made Reagan proud. (In my experience, the more unprincipled a Republican becomes, the more likely he is to cover it up with prattle about the Gipper.)

“We believe that markets are better than Soviet-style command and control. We believe that markets are better than the government coercing people into doing things they don’t want to do,” Mayes added, in a particularly delusional statement.

As many critics have noted, cap and trade isn’t a true market system. It’s a government-created program that artificially caps the amount of greenhouse gases that manufacturers can emit, then reduces that amount each year. Companies have to buy “credits” for excess carbon emissions, while they spend enormous sums to convert to other technologies.

There’s a reason the state’s air regulators made predictions about “leakage,” which is the banal term used to describe jobs that flitter away as California businesses flee elsewhere or limit operations in the face of these daunting new costs.

Cap and trade was the program the air bureaucrats came up with after California passed a 2006 law mandating that greenhouse-gas emissions be rolled back to 1990 levels by 2020. The state passed a law last year that mandates such emissions be reduced to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. That’s going to be a tough target to meet.

This comes at an enormous cost to state manufacturers and consumers. It erodes our competitiveness with other states and nations. The problems are entirely self-imposed and are driven by ideological, rather than practical, motivations. When the governor offered the choice of a punitive cap-and-trade system or command-and-control regulation, he offered a phony choice that these kinder, gentler, approval-seeking Republicans eagerly accepted.

But the Democrats here hold all the power, and they’ll be sure to throw the compliant Republicans under the bus at the next opportunity. It’s bad enough that Mayes and company sold out for so very little, and even yuckier hearing them justify their cravenness as a defense of limited-government principles. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely they are embarrassed about this.

Steven Greenhut
Steven Greenhut
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Steven Greenhut is a senior fellow and Western region director for the R Street Institute. Write to him at sgreenhut@rstreet.org.
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