Assembly’s new GOP leader eyes role, top priorities

Assemblyman George Plescia, R-San Diego, took over this week as Assembly
minority leader after Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, stepped down in order
to concentrate on a run for Congress. Capitol Weekly recently sat down with
Plescia to discuss his new job.

Capitol Weekly: Tell me what some of your legislative priorities are going
to be.
Assemblyman George Plescia: Obviously we are going to still have to have
discussions the governor wants us to have on trying to get something on the
ballot as far as infrastructure bonds.

CW: What do you think the chances are of getting something in November?
GP: Frankly, the proposal was just way too big for the Assembly Republicans.
It also just needs to be critical infrastructure needs in transportation,
school bonds and levees. Start bringing in parks and soccer fields and
housing, it really makes it very difficult for Republicans to support.

CW: Any idea of a specific number before the B [billion]?
GP: Not a clue, but nowhere near the $68 billion that the governor was
looking for.

CW: There was some criticism of McCarthy early on that he went with the
governor too easily. But then that really changed more recently in the bond
negotiations. Besides the bond, any specific things you see yourself
breaking with the governor on?
GP: No. We can never agree 100 percent of the time. But make no mistake:
Myself, as Kevin did, we want to be an ally of the governor. And we want him
to get re-elected. But there are policy differences throughout the year, and
we just try to rectify them as best as possible. Usually it works out.
I’ve been with Kevin numerous times when he’s been talking with the
governor. That may have been the perception on the outside world. But I’ve
been there several times with Kevin negotiating with the governor and
realized what he was fighting for on behalf of the Assembly Republicans. And
I look forward to the same type of relationship, being able to discuss our
differences in private. And try to get the governor to take a more
conservative approach on certain issues.

CW: Such as?
GP: Well, just certain policy issues, fiscal especially. Because our budget
does still have deficits that we’re dealing with in the out years, and we’d
like to take care of that. That’s just a matter of slowing the growth of
spending in state government.

CW: Of a couple of your pet issues in the past, one is very specifically
looking at Proposition 42 money. Is that going to be tied into the bond?
GP: There is a pretty good consensus that we need some sort of a fix on
Prop. 42. I don’t know if we’re all together on just protecting it 100
percent, but I think there is a Prop. 42 fix that is definitely better than
what there is today, if we’re successful in getting bonds on the ballot in
November. If not, signature gathering is going very well, too, so something
will be on the ballot to deal with fixing Prop. 42.

CW: Let’s talk about the elections. There are a couple of things going on
that could be kind of problematic for the governor. Specifically, there are
multiple initiatives, not only gay marriage but also the invalidation of
domestic partnerships, which, given his kind of centrist, socially-moderate
reputation, could be very thorny for him. How do you see that playing out in
terms of keeping the Republican team together?
GP: [Senator and lieutenant governor candidate] Tom McClintock has been very
much a big supporter of the governor, and I applaud him for that, because
the Republican Party, at times, we tend to eat our own.

I don’t know what’s going to qualify on the ballot. Look at the special
election. You had over 80 submit for title and summary from the attorney
general and I thought it’s just going to drive you nuts if you try to follow
all 80-some odd issues. I take them as soon they look like they’re going to
[qualify]. Reversing what the Legislature years ago passed for domestic
partnerships–it could put him at opposites with what some Republicans
believe. I still have no doubt that they want him to get re-elected.

He is a not a typical conservative, as we think what a conservative is. But
we all knew that going in. We still think California is a better place for
him being elected governor. At some point you have to just let the voters
speak. If the voters do what they want to do with propositions, the
lawmakers should take that into their thoughts when they propose
legislation. It’s the same thing with Prop. 22, they spoke loud and clear.

CW: How did that work out?
GP: They said marriage was a man and a woman, and others keep trying to
pursue legislative avenues that differ from what voters intended. That’s
just the beautiful thing about democracy.

CW: One of the biggest powers you have obviously has to do with the budget
because of the two-thirds vote. What are some of the areas that you’re
looking at trimming?
GP: I think cut is a pretty harsh word. We’d like to slow the growth.

CW: OK, areas of further restraint.
GP: First and foremost we’re not going to support any tax increases. We’ve
shown California’s economy is pretty healthy.

CW: What about “user fees”?
GP: Our caucus is pretty resistant to user fees as well. The economy is
going well and revenues are up. I don’t see the need why the state should be
looking for more revenues. We’ve seen it over and over. It’s not a revenue
problem, it’s a spending problem. We’ve made great strides in reducing the
deficit. If we show some fiscal prudence the next couple budgets, we can get
ourselves out of that altogether. But that’s going to have to really reduce
the amount of increased spending. Health and Human Services had a huge bump
over the years, percentage-wise. I don’t know the exact percentage, but it
has been the biggest growth percentage-wise in our budget.

CW: Is that part of why you’ve been pushing health-savings accounts?
GP: It just gives people the ability to use health-savings accounts as a way
to providing health care for their families, and why we don’t conform to
that law is a little ridiculous. It may not be for everyone, but it’s
voluntary. Why not afford that ability for people in California who would
want to use it? We’re literally one of seven states that don’t conform right
now. I proposed legislation last year to deal with it and it got held up in

CW: But if you look at the buzz that’s going on, there is a lot of talk
about various socialized or single-payer plans. What do you think the
chances are of you getting anything like that this year?
GP: I don’t think we’d get single-payer. Of the health-savings accounts? I
think it’s pretty good, because the governor is going to push for it.
Especially in light of the effects really being shown this tax season, the
first that we’re going to afforded the advantages of health-savings
accounts. I think this might sway a few more people into thinking that this
is probably not a bad policy for California.

CW: Are you still sharing a place in town with Rick Keene? What was it like
running against him for leader while you guys were living together?
GP: Rick and I continue to have a good relationship. He’ll be a part of my
leadership team. No one really anticipated there’d be an opening for leader
until Congressman [Bill] Thomas [R-Bakersfield] retired and Kevin decided to
run for Congress. But we talked about it ahead of time and decided, yeah
we’d both like to entertain the idea. We said let’s go out and see who can
garner support.

CW: So there were no tense moments at the washing machine?
GP: No. He’s a valuable member of our caucus. He’s really good on budget and
will be advising me, I’m sure daily or hourly, as budget stuff is going
along. Rick is one that Kevin always liked to take down to the governor’s
office when discussing the b
udget details.

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