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California State Capitol (Photo: Kevin Sanders for California Globe)

Frequently Asked Questions about Influences on California Legislation

What is the role of personal philosophy?

By Chris Micheli, June 24, 2024 2:30 am

The following list is certainly not comprehensive, but it gives the reader an idea of some of the influences impacting decisions by lawmakers at the State Capitol, including:

What is the role of political parties? One of the biggest influences, and most reliable predictors, of how a legislator will vote is the legislator’s political party affiliation. Legislators often inquire about the position of the party’s caucus and its vote recommendation.

What is the role of legislative districts? It is crucial for a legislator to take into consideration the needs and interests of his or her district and constituents. Is the legislator voting his or her district? On a controversial measure, he or she may also need to consider any potential “political costs” to the proposed legislation. The fundamental concern is how will the vote on this bill impact the legislator in his or her district? Legislators face difficult choices when the views of the district are at odds with the party caucus position.

What is the role of legislative leadership? The leader of the legislative chamber may have the most influence of any legislator. Sometimes the leader’s support or opposition will carry the day with members of his or her caucus. At other times, a legislator may be persuaded by some other factor but the leader’s position will weigh heavily.

What is the role of interest groups? The legislator may be friendly with one or more key interest groups. This can be based upon personal trust of a particular group’s advocates or it could be based on raw, political realities. So, naturally the legislator will want to know how that interest group views this proposal and one of the first questions a legislator will ask staff is “who supports and opposes this measure?” They will also want to know how important is the issue or bill to that interest group? In other words, is the bill a priority or a bill upon which they have simply taken a position but are not otherwise active.

What is the role of personal philosophy? How the legislator will view a public policy issue may be dependent upon his or her personal beliefs. What is the individual’s political ideology? Does a governing philosophy direct how this legislator may vote on issues? Does religion play a role? Are there other factors, such as geographic or regional sensibilities, gender, or ethnicity? Has the legislator had any personal or professional experiences in life that influence their thinking about an issue?

What is the role of legislative colleagues? How a legislator views another member of the chamber or political party may be a determining factor, such as whether that fellow legislator is a committee chair, or represents an area of the state, or has subject matter expertise. If a legislator knows little about a bill, they may seek out a colleague with more information. Also, a personal working relationship with a bill author is often an important factor and can often help facilitate compromise or preclude it in some instances.

What is the role of legislative rules? The vote requirements and other procedural hurdles can impact how a legislator may vote on a bill. For example, there is a super-majority vote requirement for tax increase measures. Does the need for a large vote of both houses influence how a legislator may or may not vote?

What is the role of the governor? As the Governor can sign or veto any bills, he or she does have considerable influence over shaping legislation. Does the bill have any support or opposition from the state’s chief executive? Is the Governor of the same political party as the legislator? Has the Governor staked out a position in this policy area?

What is the role of public opinion? The opinion of the public can influence legislators as well. Have the media or blogosphere written about this issue or bill? Is there public opinion polling on it? If so, what is the majority’s position? Have opinion-editorials been published in the local newspaper? If so, which position do they advocate?

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