Illustration by Louise Leong.
Illustration by Louise Leong.

Bill Monning is a Democrat in the California State Assembly who represents California’s 27th district, which includes Santa Cruz and Monterey. On April 30, after a town hall meeting with UC Santa Cruz students and community members, he spoke to City on a Hill Press and other student media organizations about health care, his role as the chairman of the assembly health committee, candidates in the 2010 governors race, and California’s looming budget crisis.


City on a Hill Press: What is your goal as the Chairman of the Assembly Health Committee?

Bill Monning: Well, as Chair of the Assembly Health Committee, one of my primary responsibilities will be positioning California to take full advantage of the national healthcare reform.

We have been introducing some bills in the last two weeks to position California to take full advantage of the immediate benefits of the Obama reform, [including] an extension of health benefits to a broader range of children and young people up to age 19.

We are also looking at ways that we can accelerate some of the elements of the Obama reform to take effect more rapidly in California.

CHP: What are you working on specifically to speed up implementation in California?

BM: One that takes effect in 2014, for adults, is the pre-existing condition — that you can’t be denied coverage for a pre-existing condition. Under the Obama legislation, it will not go in effect until 2014. We are looking at “Can we accelerate that in California to have it happen during this legislative session?”

CHP: What do you think the biggest issue will be in the 2010 California governor’s race?

BM: This governor’s race, it’s huge for the future of the state of California. I think fundamental issues include California’s taxation system, it includes growing inequality between have and have-nots and [candidates] being able to articulate a vision for the future of this state in terms of education, in terms of health care, in terms of environmental integrity.

CHP: What is your opinion of Democratic nominee for governor, Jerry Brown?

BM: Jerry Brown, who is the only formidable Democratic — running virtually unopposed in the Democratic primary, currently serving as Attorney General — talks in his own words about reinventing himself.

I actually knew him when he became governor in 1975 — I was working for a group called the United Farm Workers Union (UFW). We had worked to get the first election law for farm workers in the United States, the Agricultural Labor Relations Act … I was an advocate at that time for the UFW and it was vetoed by then-governor Ronald Reagan. We worked to elect Jerry Brown in 1975, he took office and one of his first acts was to sign the Agricultural Labor Relations Act.

He was somebody who Doonesbury characterized as ‘Governor Moonbean’ back in the ’70s and ’80s and yet I’ve always known him as person with innovative ideas, not kind of blocked into doctrine or dogma. Somebody who generates and looks at problems with a fresh prospective, and quite candidly, I’m not sure where he stands on all of the issues today in 2010, but I am very concerned about the prospective of a Meg Whitman or a [Steve] Poizner governorship because I think it will not ensure the benefit of public education or other social safety net programs that are essential to protect the most vulnerable in the state of California.

CHP: What is the biggest issue facing California right now?

BM: The paramount impediment to good governance in this state is that we don’t have a majority rule. We [the legislature] require a two-thirds vote to pass a budget and two-thirds vote to raise revenues.

It seeds inordinate power to the minority party. We are the only state out of 50 that requires a two-thirds vote on both passing a budget and raising revenues. And if you look up democracy in the dictionary, democracy is majority rule. Since we don’t have democracy rule in California, one could say we don’t live in a democracy.

CHP: How do we fix it?

BM: The only way we can fix it is getting a two-thirds majority in each house to put an initiative before the voters, because only the voters can amend the constitution. We [the legislature] have the power to make the recommendation for constitutional amendments but we need a two-thirds vote to put it in front of the voters. The other way to get there is for voters circulating signature petitions to qualify a constitutional amendment for a ballot measure on the statewide ballot. It takes four to five hundred thousand signatures, if those are paid signatures one to $2 million to qualify.

There has also been a proposal by George Lakoff and the organization called the California Democracy Campaign. Their initiative language says, “the California legislature shall pass a budget and raise taxes, raise revenue by majority vote” — period. Unfortunately, that seems not to have gained the signature support to qualify for the ballot.

I think particularly people interested in higher education or the UC system — I think it should be a focal point for student organizations over the next period of time. A lot of this isn’t going to be happening by the end of 2010 but we need to do the education, we need to connect the dots and we need to give people in California the opportunity to amend the constitution.

CHP: Is ending the two-thirds majority vote for both taxes and the budget the best thing for higher education?

BM: I think it is the most important tool for amended governance that would allow us to prioritize higher education and the UC system in the balancing of our budget in tough economic times.