After years of budget misery, public opprobrium and term-limit-induced turnover, Sacramento is starting to look a lot more attractive to Democratic lawmakers and candidates, who once might have viewed a seat in Congress as the higher, more desirable rung on the political ladder. (A voter-passed change in term limits, allowing legislators to serve 12 years in a single chamber, is another reason staying put has grown more appealing.)
"If you want to be on MSNBC … or quoted in Roll Call" — the Capitol Hill newspaper — then Congress is "a good place to be," said state Sen. Kevin de Leon, a Democrat from Los Angeles who is favored to become the Senate's next leader. The Legislature is far better, he said, "if you want to get real, tangible things done."
He cites legislation creating the first state-run individual retirement program, which has brought De Leon national attention. Over the years, many other laws passed in Sacramento — on issues including family leave, clean air and consumer protection — have served as a model for Washington.
No congressional seat sits empty in California for want of interested candidates, Democrat or Republican. But with recruiting for the midterm elections underway and those races slowly taking shape, there has been no rush for the exits among Sacramento Democrats, even as more competitive primaries and a redrawing of political boundaries have loosened the hammerlock incumbents once held over their congressional seats.
(For Republicans, the political dynamic is precisely the opposite. Democratic domination in Sacramento threatens to marginalize any Republican elected to the Senate or Assembly, while the GOP majority in the House of Representatives is an attraction. "You go to Congress and you're part of a majority that's likely to exist through the decade," said Rob Stutzman, a veteran GOP strategist, who lamented the difficulty of attracting top-flight legislative candidates.