Democrats Can’t Say, “NO”

Years ago, there was a song, When I say ‘no’ I mean ‘maybe’, or maybe I mean ‘yes’.” While this might be good enough for former Republican Dominic Foppoli, it is not true of California’s Democrat controlled legislature. You see, in California you can’t find any Democrat NO votes. They literally don’t exist. I know they say YES to most spending and crazy social spending ideas, but literally everything? Are Democrats really in such lockstep that they never have a difference of opinion?

From 2017 to 2024, a group called CalMatters looked at one million votes cast by current legislators. These include all votes on the floor and in committee for the 2,000 or so bills introduced per session by the 120 members of both houses.

Using our new Digital Democracy database, CalMatters examined more than 1 million votes cast by current legislators since 2017 and found Democrats vote “no” on average less than 1% of the time.

Power is never having to say ‘no.’ How California Democrats kill bills without voting against them

Last year, legislators introduced more than 2,600 bills (the most in a decade) and passed 1,046. Gov. Gavin Newsom signed 890 and vetoed 156.

How many bills in the 2024 California Legislature?

Did you get that? Democrats introduced over 2,600 bills and only passed 1,046. That means only 40 percent of bills were approved by the legislature last year, but Democrats only voted NO on one percent of everything. How can this be? For those unaware, California Democrats have over two thirds of both houses of the legislature since 2019. This means that they have the numbers necessary to pass anything and easily override the governor’s veto if they wish.

Why? It’s not something they want to talk about. Democrats have had super-majorities in both legislative chambers since 2019, so most votes involve bills from their political colleagues. But the legislative leaders and lawmakers contacted by CalMatters declined repeated requests to explain a pattern that might appear like a rubber stamp for deals made out of public view. And it seems to be sanctioned by leaders.

“There’s only two fucking buttons on your desk: There’s a green button, and there’s a red button,” then-Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon told the California Labor Federation last year in remarks reported by Politico. “Ninety-nine percent of the time, the green button is the labor button. Ninety-nine percent of the time, the green button means you’re doing the right thing, and the red button means that you’re an asshole.”

Rendon’s office declined to comment or make him available for an interview.

Instead of voting “no,” the data, video and transcripts in CalMatters’ Digital Democracy project reveals that legislators will often decline to cast a vote. Lawmakers widely use the tactic as a courtesy to avoid irking fellow legislators who’d get upset if they vote “no” on their bills, but it’s a controversial practice that critics say allows them to avoid accountability.

“There are a lot of people who abstain and who years later will claim, ‘Oh, I was in the bathroom,’ or ‘I was gone,’ or ‘I was in a meeting,’” said Mike Gatto, a former Democratic Assemblymember from Los Angeles. “It provides them an excuse after the fact to claim that they were not there. I always thought that was cowardly, the opposite of courageous.”

Last year, at least 15 bills died due to lack of votes instead of lawmakers actually voting “no” to kill them.

The most notorious example was when a bill to increase penalties for child sex trafficking died in the Assembly Public Safety Committee because Democrats did not vote. After widespread condemnation, Gov. Gavin Newsom got involved, prompting some committee Democrats to apologize and re-vote on the measure that Newsom later signed.

Power is never having to say ‘no.’ How California Democrats kill bills without voting against them

At least three fentanyl-related bills also died last year due to Democrats refusing to vote on them, infuriating Regina Chavez, who advocated for the legislation. Her 15-year-old daughter, Jewels Marie Wolf, died from the drug in 2022.

“I personally am insulted, because I think everything should be on the record when you hold a state title,” she said. “That is what they signed up for to represent us.”

Chavez along with a group of mothers of youth who died from fentanyl learned about the prevalence of non-votes by exploring the Digital Democracy database.

In a glaring example they found, a bill had 22 bipartisan cosponsors and would likely pass if it reached the Senate floor, but it died in the Senate Public Safety Committee when the four Democrats — Nancy Skinner, Steven Bradford, Aisha Wahab and Scott Wiener — declined to vote by staying silent during the roll call. None of them responded to interview requests.

If you keep reading the article you will find that Democrats will punish other Democrats that vote NO on a bill. In their eyes, it’s better to remain silent than to remove all doubt.

Oh wait. This sounds just like Jim Woodward’s campaign against Scott Herndon. Saying NO to stupid ideas or spending is the cardinal sin for fake Republicans like Woodward. I plan to have more on Woodward’s supporters in a future article.

Lastly, thanks to California Political Review for bring this subject to my attention.