Democrats’ education fight reveals rifts amid one-party rule

Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), left, joins fellow Democratic senators in his Capitol office on Thursday to discuss their alternative to Gov. Jerry Brown's education plan.
(Anthony York / Los Angeles Times)

SACRAMENTO -- One day after a combative Gov. Jerry Brown promised Senate Democrats “the battle of their lives” if they opposed his education plan, lawmakers from Brown’s own party held their ground on Thursday and took jabs of their own at the governor.

While Democrats in the Legislature say they agree with the concept of Brown’s proposal to move a larger share of state education dollars toward students who are poor or non-native English speakers, they questioned whether the governor’s plan, as written, actually accomplishes those goals and said they have come up with a better way.

Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), who noted Brown’s comments on Wednesday were “a little bit sharp,” said his caucus believes “the governor’s plan can be improved.” In the process, he took a more subtle shot at Brown, who Steinberg implied has been unwilling to discuss details of his plan until now.


“I’m glad we provoked a strong reaction,” Steinberg told reporters in his Capitol office Thursday, “because it is time to engage with the leaders and the members who have the responsibility to actually cast the votes and pass any change, any major change to the way we finance public education.”

It’s not just battle lines on policy differences that are being drawn by Brown and Democratic lawmakers this week. The emotion thermostat is also being set for the next several months, which will include discussions about a host of controversial issues including water infrastructure, environmental rules and implementation of the federal healthcare law.

Sen. Kevin DeLeon (D-Los Angeles) also made a point to “welcome the governor to the table” on the education discussion but noted “none of us has a monopoly on talking about civil rights,” a direct response to Brown’s characterization of his plan as a matter of social justice.

Many a policy matter has been derailed by personality differences in the Capitol, and the combative tone struck by both Brown and Senate Democrats underscores the fact that one-party rule in Sacramento does not always mean that everything is hunky dory.


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Twitter: @anthonyyorklat