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Essential Politics: The long view of Anthony Rendon

Good morning from the state capital. I’m Sacramento Bureau Chief John Myers with this morning’s Essential Politics.


Political power in the state Capitol’s modern era has been largely shaped by the ticking clock of term limits, a steady fade of political influence from almost the moment a legislator's bags are unpacked in Sacramento. The strict term limits system imposed by voters in 1990 was supposed to bring about more accountability and less entrenched power in the state Senate and Assembly. In reality, it simply transferred the entrenched power to lobbyists, interest groups, even staffers. Those unintended consequences were at the heart of 2012’s successful Proposition 28, extending legislative term limits to 12 years.

Now, we're about to see the first leader who really gets to take that power out for a spin: Assembly Speaker-Elect Anthony Rendon, the Democrat from Lakewood who gets the gavel on March 7.

OUR CHAT WITH RENDON

“The mindset of the members will change,” said Rendon about the new era of legislating, during a wide-ranging conversation with The Times’ Sacramento bureau on Wednesday morning.

We profiled the man behind the title last month. In his chat with us over a cup of coffee, Rendon made it clear he sees the new term limits as the beginning of a long-term recalibration of political power between the branches of government.

“There’s a culture,” he said, “of the Legislature being secondary to the governor.”

Changing that will take time, and Rendon agreed no big shifts are likely until after Gov. Jerry Brown leaves office in three years. And speaking of Brown, how does the new Assembly leader see the road ahead?

“Everybody in this town has given me advice on how to deal with the governor,” said Rendon.

He laid out what he learned about Brown after helping lead negotiations over a new state water bond in 2013 and 2014: “Never go to him with an incomplete idea,” and “Don’t explain why, explain how.”

Rendon also confirmed something widely discussed around Sacramento, as Melanie Mason reports: He doesn’t plan to carry any legislation as Assembly speaker, a throwback to the days of the legendary Willie Brown.

By the way, don’t forget that you can always get a quick fix of the latest California political news on our Essential Politics news feed.

PUBLIC UTILITIES COMMISSION: BREAKING UP IS HARD TO DO

Meantime, Mason and Jeff McDonald report on a must-watch piece of legislation introduced on Wednesday in Sacramento: an effort to dramatically reshape the power and portfolio of the California Public Utilities Commission.

The quasi-independent agency has been at the center of controversy now for several years, after everything from the deadly 2010 gas explosion in San Bruno to investigations related to the agency’s handling of the San Onofre nuclear plant and the commission's former president, Michael Peevey.

CLINTON AND SANDERS MAY BE SINGING 'CALIFORNIA, HERE WE COME'

Lots of presidential news to report, and one of particular note is news of a potential Democratic presidential debate in the Golden State this spring.

As Chris Megerian and Kurtis Lee report, Sen. Bernie Sanders said in a national TV interview that the Democratic National Committee has its eyes set on a debate in California, possibly in May.

Think fast: when was the last California presidential debate? The answer: Jan. 31, 2008, when Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton squared off at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles.

As for the current state of affairs, find our coverage of Wednesday night’s Demcoratic town hall here and track Thursday night’s official debate on Trail Guide.

2016 LIGHTNING ROUND

Our team in New Hampshire is tracking every detail on Trail Guide: Sen. Rand Paul ending his presidential bid to focus on his Senate reelection campaign; former Sen. Rick Santorum calling it quits and endorsing Sen. Marco Rubio; and Sen. Ted Cruz’s spat with Ben Carson.

Mike Memoli reports that for the state celebrating the 100th anniversary of its presidential primary, Donald Trump’s bravado has given rise to an uncomfortable argument: New Hampshire itself may have as much to lose as any of the candidates, should his double-digit lead hold until the Tuesday primary.

Evan Halper examines Clinton’s struggle with millennial women, in part because she’s not a feminist icon for most of them. In 2008, Clinton avoided putting women's issues at the center of her campaign. Despite addressing women's rights, and more fully embracing the historic nature of her candidacy, she’s not sticking with this voting bloc, he writes.

Cathleen Decker details how a pledge by Republican leaders that this campaign would be sensitive to the concerns of Latinos and other immigrants has been thoroughly cast aside in favor of claims that are often exaggerated by candidates. She writes that on Wednesday, Cruz used the exact language in talking about those immigrants as California’s then-Gov. Pete Wilson used in a famously controversial ad during his 1994 reelection campaign.

Kate Linthicum has the numbers on a group claiming high participation from Latinos in the Iowa caucuses.

BIPARTISAN, FOR THE MORNING

Sarah Wire sat down with San Diego Rep. Juan Vargas to talk with the Democrat about his role as co-chairman of Thursday morning's national prayer breakfast.

Vargas, who studied to become a Jesuit priest for nearly five years, called himself a Matthew 25 Christian, referring to a series of parables told by Jesus on how to live. He recited Matthew 25:35-40. He also opened up on a weekly prayer meeting among lawmakers in Washington, saying it gives them a respite from rhetoric, even if a brief one.

"Here we all sit, as Democrats, Republicans, Congress members, senators and for that short moment of time we're all together, we're unified," Vargas said. "We're praying for the president, we're praying for the nation, we're praying for the world. That spirit is one that I wish we had all the time. We don't, but I wish that we did."

TODAY’S ESSENTIALS

— Final numbers are in for how much was spent lobbying state government in 2015. And the top industry, in spending, is local governments across California. Yes, government lobbying government with taxpayer dollars.

— George Skelton devotes his Thursday column to everyone's favorite political parlor game these days: Will California come into play in the race for the White House?

— Patrick McGreevy reports on the latest law on California's books: an extension of time for local governments to make decisions on how their own medical marijuana ordinances.

Rep. Mike Honda donned a referee’s uniform between votes Wednesday and officiated a Super Bowl bet between Democratic Reps. Diana DeGette (Colo.) and Alma Adams (N.C.) DeGette pledged to provide bison burgers and local beer if the Carolina Panthers win and Adams pledged barbecue and local beer if the Denver Broncos win. Honda, whose congressional district is hosting Sunday’s Super Bowl, offered to chip in California wine and beer to the winner as well. And an editorial sidebar: Your humble newsletter author is a North Carolina native and thus will be wearing his Panthers jersey this Sunday.

LOGISTICS

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