During debate in the California Senate Friday, Republican Sen. Jeff Stone had enough, and called out a colleague. Senators were debating AB 1290, a bill to require contractors for the Pure Water San Diego program to enter into a project labor agreement as a condition of receiving specified state funds, despite that San Diego voters already decided to prohibit requiring PLAs as part of construction projects in Proposition A in 2012.
Sen. Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) introduced the bill by Assemblyman Todd Gloria (D-San Diego) as necessary “at a time of climate change and cycles of droughts which threaten water supply.” Atkins explained Proposition A prevents the City of San Diego from mandating project labor agreements on construction projects except when required by state or federal law. AB 1290 would remedy the legal dispute of the Pure Water program, as a condition of receiving state funds. According to the City of San Diego’s court filings, costs are projected to increase $4 million for each month of delay beyond August 2019. Additionally, without legal certainty, the City could lose $646.6 million from the State Water Resources Control Board and could receive significant fines if it does not meet key milestones set by regulators.
“AB 1290 is sponsored by the union caucus,” said Sen. Stone. “It will force the city into a project labor agreement in order to finalize this water project.”
Stone said “I’m curious about why we are stopping water from being delivered to our second largest city in the state.” Stone said the Pure Water San Diego Program has run into legal challenges centered around the San Diego City Council’s November 2018 decision to require contractors to use union apprentices on major parts of the Program.
“You know who unions are – they control this Legislature,” Stone said. “How many bills are we going to see by the union caucus? Big labor lost in San Diego when they lost Proposition A. You are thwarting the will of the voters in San Diego.”
“If you are really a believer in local control… if it passes, it shows this body is really at the will of union bosses,” Stone said, ending his floor debate.
Sen. John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa) noted that project labor agreements do not have a positive record, and only 10 percent of building contractors in San Diego are union shops. “Why shut out 90 percent? Especially when voters did not approve project labor agreements. This is an end-run by special interest groups taking advantage of this body.”
Next, like a scene out of “Mean Girls,” Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) refuted Stone’s comments and said, “actually Senator Stone yesterday said how much he enjoyed the debate yesterday,” saying today he’s “uncivil and name-calling.” She said Sen. Stone’s comments “lack civility.”
And that’s when Sen. Stone began a “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore” retort.
“I’ve been tame in my comments this last year,” he said, noting “two to three members of this Legislature talking to me like I’m one of their kids.” He said he’s been called ‘racist’ in addition to being accused of incivility when he debates opposition points of view. “I’m not going to put up with it anymore,” Stone said. He added that only his Jewish mother and a few college professors had ever spoken to him this way.
Senate President Steven Bradford (D-Los Angeles) continued to demand order, but directed his comments at Sen. Stone, and not at Sen. Mitchell.
Sen. Republican Leader Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield) called for a Republican caucus recess, as Sen. Stone continued to say he would not put up with the condescending treatment any longer.
As the Senate was recessed for the caucus break, Sen. Holly Mitchell walked across the Senate floor over to Sen. Stone’s desk to speak to him again.
This was not taken well.
The Senate was recessed while Republicans caucused privately.
When they returned, Senator Grove invoked a point of personal privilege as the Republican Leader: “The decorum in this house gets thrown out of whack by mainly one group, one person,” she said gesturing to several Democrats. “And my colleagues are done. And I’m here to tell you that decency and respect goes both ways. And when they have points on a bill that are valid, and that are not out of order, for you to bully them into a place of… with your rolling eyes, your smirk smiles, your hostile looks to my members, it is unacceptable. For you to come on this side of the floor and come over to the desk of one of my members when the Chair or President is calling the House back to order is unacceptable. And I am asking you personally, to refrain from your conduct.”
She was halted by Bradford who said, “We’re asking everyone to have decorum today. So let’s not single out any individuals.”
“With all due respect Mr. President, I think it’s just one individual that is causing that conflict on this floor,” Sen Grove said.
“No calling out individual members Senator Grove,” Bradford said.
“I didn’t name a person. I did the same thing that she does to us when she looks across the floor…” Grove said.
“Senator Grove, we’re going to ask you to refrain from those…” Bradford said.
“Okay, again I would just like to call decorum in this house and I would like the bullying to stop,” Grove said. “Thank you.”
Someone in the background clapped.
The Dynamic and Power Structure
Sen. Holly Mitchell, first elected to the State Assembly in 2010, is a prominent member of the African American caucus, and is also the very powerful Senate Budget Committee chairwoman, who is seen by many as lording her position over a Jewish Republican in the minority party. This isn’t the first time this session, this year, or since Stone was first elected to the Senate he was called names, or was on the receiving end of the behavior Sen. Grove described. Yet no one in the Democratic caucus has corrected the behavior on the record, or defended Stone.
Stone was elected to the Senate in 2014. Notably, Stone resigned his membership in the Legislative Jewish Caucus in 2017. “When I was invited to join the Jewish Caucus, I was expressly told that it was a non-partisan Caucus, and the issues we were going to be involved with would focus on promoting the interests of the Jewish people in California and around the world,” Stone said. “Since the election of President Trump, it seems that there has been a divergence from the Caucus’ original mission. It has clearly become a vehicle for a Legislative Caucus that receives state resources to merely criticize our duly elected President.” Senator Stone was the sole Republican member of the Legislative Jewish Caucus.
Despite additional objections to requiring project labor agreements for the Pure Water San Diego program, AB 1290 passed 28-9.