Sacramento Report: A Social Media Star Is Born in the Assembly
Bond watchdogs are urged to show their teeth, Atkins urges lawmakers to “do something big” on health care and more in our weekly roundup of news from Sacramento.
It’s hard to be a Republican in the California Legislature.
Earlier this year when Sen. Janet Nguyen was removed from the Senate chamber, it was clear that Senate Republicans were upset for their colleague but also thrilled – thrilled – to be in the spotlight for a change.
Yet Republican Assemblyman Randy Voepel is getting noticed.
Part of that is thanks to his tie collection (a story for another day), but mostly it’s because of his social media presence.
Following Gov. Jerry Brown’s State of the State address, Voepel posted a rebuttal using the online tool Genius. He’s advocated for bills by posting listicles on Medium that are heavy on cat GIFs. Mostly, though, he makes a mark using Twitter, where his messages combine policy updates with memes. So many memes.
The moment you get your second bill of the day (AB 353) through committee pic.twitter.com/nKmennUs9D
— Asm. Randy Voepel (@RandyVoepel) April 20, 2017
— Asm. Randy Voepel (@RandyVoepel) April 4, 2017
Another bill, AB561, the Pension Sustainability Act, has passed it’s first committee with unanimous support! pic.twitter.com/4U8pTNepXe
— Asm. Randy Voepel (@RandyVoepel) April 3, 2017
Mason Herron, Voepel’s chief of staff, is the social media guru behind the assemblyman’s online presence. This week, he and I talked via email about his approach.
Most of the assemblyman’s tweets and other social media posts have a really hilarious element to them – a great GIF or meme to amplify the point, for example. Is there a strategy behind them beyond just being funny?
There’s a lot of content being pushed out constantly on Twitter, so it gets hard to stand out – especially as an elected official discussing legislative issues. He generally wants to approach most things in a different way, and is open to taking risks, and so it’s no surprise his Twitter account has taken that direction. For the most part the tweets stick to legislative issues, but in a manner that makes them stand out more than the general “My bill passed out of committee” tweets. The long-term goal is to have a large and engaged Twitter following so when there’s an issue of significant importance he wants to discuss, people will already be listening.
That being said, sometimes being funny is an end in itself.
The posts have gotten a lot of attention from reporters and other legislators. Do you think they’ve raised his profile beyond what a first-term lawmaker from Santee might otherwise have?
It seems that way, and a handful of people have made that observation. Gaining greater visibility within the Sacramento landscape has its merits, but only if it carries over to coverage of the issues the assemblyman is focused on. Republicans don’t get as much attention up here as Democrats, for obvious reasons, so the goal is to change that trend however you can. In my boss’ case, it means taking a more creative and outside-the-box approach to social media.
Not sure if you’ll appreciate this comparison, but the assemblyman’s social media footprint reminds me of Hillary Clinton’s – in that her posts with references to Beyonce and Buzzfeed didn’t necessarily represent her personality but did represent the audience she was trying to reach. Does Assemblyman Voepel know all the references you’re putting out there? Does he ever say something is too much? What’s the process like?
Sometimes there has to be some contextual discussion regarding tweets that include with DJ Khaled or the BBC interview, but he understands that ultimately you have to message to your audience correctly. And by doing that he’s been able to bring in far more Democrats and younger people than I think he would have otherwise, and they’ll occasionally chime in saying that while they don’t agree with his stands on issues, they still appreciate the way he communicates and will remain engaged.
So far there’s been willingness on his part to pursue and embrace pretty much anything, which is an invaluable mindset to have. Politics is an industry of risk aversion, so being able to break free of that can be empowering. It’s a “no risk, no reward” approach.
What have been the reactions to Assemblyman Voepel’s tweets and other postings?
Surprise, mostly. But also overwhelmingly positive. There’s an appreciation that he’s doing something different in a positive manner. That, and pretty much everybody likes memes.
‘Let’s Do Something Big’
More details have come out over the last couple weeks about Sen. Toni Atkins and Sen. Ricardo Lara’s plan to move California to a single-payer health care system, Healthy California.
This analysis dropped ahead of the Senate Health Committee hearing on the bill this week, and it sheds more light on how the system would work:
• The program would be an independent state entity overseen by an unpaid board appointed by legislators and the governor.
• Every resident of California, regardless of immigration status, would be eligible.
• Residents would choose their providers.
• Private health insurance companies could only offer benefits and services that aren’t covered by Healthy California.
The big outstanding question, like with any massively ambitious proposal, is how we’d pay for all of this. Here’s how the Mercury News described the funding approach, and its gaps:
Lara and Atkins are relying on the federal government’s approval to divert $261 billion of federal dollars currently sent to California to pay for Medicaid, Medicare, and the Affordable Care Act, among other programs. Under this new program, that money would be set aside in a trust fund.
But the cost to cover everyone else who has employer-provided insurance would be staggering: about $106.5 billion in tax revenue, according to a UCLA Center for Health Policy Research study.
At the hearing this week, Atkins and Lara both said that California has made huge strides in insuring its residents, but that it’s not enough. They also said residents shouldn’t have to wonder if their health care will be revoked depending on who’s in power.
“We should have the same certainty of access to health care as we all have with access to public education or the expectation of public safety and emergency response,” Atkins said in the hearing. “These are fundamental services to which Californians have access simply because they live here. The same should be true with health care.”
Atkins ended with a challenge to her colleagues: “Let’s do something big.”
Lawmakers got an earful from supporters and opponents. Reps for insurance providers and health companies said the measure would put them out of business.
Teresa Stark, director of state government relations for Kaiser Permanente, called the bill “divisive and counterproductive” and said it “actually could cause harm.”
The bill passed out of the committee. It now heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee, which Lara chairs.
Water Agency Is OK With Lead Testing Bill, Just Not Its Price Tag
At least a half dozen bills in the Legislature seek to find and eliminate lead in drinking water, particularly in school drinking water. State and federal lawmakers and regulators have worked for years to reduce the amount of lead in paint, gas and water, but lead still lingers in the plumbing and fixtures of aging buildings, including schoolhouses across the state.
Water agencies in California oppose some of these bills because the agencies – rather than the schools – would pay for the tests. The water agencies don’t think that is their job. They are delivering clean water. It’s not their fault, they argue, if the water becomes toxic once it touches old plumbing inside a home, office or school. It’s like selling a car. If the car is safe when you buy it, Ford doesn’t want to be responsible if you wreck it.
The San Diego County Water Authority voted this week to oppose one bill, AB 885, because it would require water agencies to pay for testing in schools. The Water Authority is also concerned about any bill that would make water-quality standards stricter, something that AB 746 by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher would do. Her bill not only requires regular tests of schools but also makes far stricter the amount of lead allowed in the drinking water supply.
Here’s a summary the Water Authority prepared of other bills:
– Ry Rivard
School Bond Watchdogs Urged to Call Out Misbehavior
More than 50 citizens tasked with overseeing school bond programs from across the state gathered in Sacramento Tuesday for the California League of Bond Oversight Committees annual conference.
Nick Marinovich, a league director and chair of the Sweetwater Union High School District bond committee, urged attendees to ask tough questions and provide vigorous oversight to fulfill their role mandated by state law since 2000, when California voters made it easier to pass local property taxes to pay for school construction projects.
Marinovich retraced the recent history of how Sweetwater went from “absolute crap” with a pay-to-play contracting culture that ended in criminal convictions for multiple school leaders.to a “well-oiled machine right now.”
“Bond oversight, well, it was an absolute joke,” but now, “we’ve got a better bond program because we’ve got strong oversight,” he said.
On site tours, overseers need to look at the good and the bad, he said. A Sweetwater high school that had received $60 million in bond work still lacked air conditioning in half of the classrooms, even though air conditioning was included in the bond measure’s 75-word ballot summary put before voters.
“Call them out on that,” he said. “We could all look at the grand opening of a beautiful library, which is fine to a point, but we want to look at what hasn’t been done.”
Much of Sweetwater’s Proposition O bond program has stalled after selling only $277 million out of the $644 million in bonds authorized due to the impact of the recession on South Bay property values. The district is considering putting a new bond before voters in the coming years.
– Ashly McGlone
No, the State’s Not to Blame for San Diego Unified Woes
The San Diego Unified School District has tried its hardest to spin its massive upcoming budget cuts as changes that will help schools – and also a problem that’s largely out of its control.
School officials have repeatedly suggested that Sacramento is the reason it’s in a tough financial spot.
Most recently, a district press release pointed to one stat it says makes its case: “California is currently ranked 46th in the nation on per pupil funding.”
Ashly McGlone vetted that stat and found that while it accurately represents numbers from the 2013-2014 school year, a lot has changed since then.
“Not only did California voters extend certain personal income tax hikes that fund education through 2030 by passing Prop. 55 in November, the state’s new formula for allocating money to schools – called the Local Control Funding Formula – took effect in 2013-14. …
So, while California may have ranked 46th three years ago, funding for schools increased dramatically since then, and that’s to say nothing about the billions of dollars in extra taxes approved via local bond measures for construction projects not factored into the equation.”
Golden State News
• A bill by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez that would bar employers from firing workers who have an abortion or who give birth out of wedlock is, unsurprisingly, not popular with some religious employers. (L.A. Times)
• An explosive audit released this week found that University of California administrators hid $175 million “in a secret reserve fund even as the UC raised tuition and asked the state for more funding.” (KPCC)
• President Donald Trump said he is considering breaking up the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers California and other western states. (CNN)