Alan Lowenthal’s Decision
State Senator Alan Lowenthal, a Democrat, wants to go to Congress. He’s running in California’s 47th district, based in Long Beach. His fellow Democrats in Congress and President Obama support high speed rail. Tea Party Republicans in Congress are adamantly opposed to high speed rail and are working as hard as they can to defund it, in order to promote their ideological anti-rail agenda and deal President Obama a political blow.
That leaves just two options for Lowenthal were he to sit in Congress: he can vote with his fellow Democrats and the president to fund HSR or he can side with Tea Party Republicans against his fellow Democrats and the president and vote against HSR funding.
Lowenthal is faced with the same choice right now as a State Senator, as are all Democrats in the State Senate. Will they side with their president, their Congressional allies, and their governor or will they side with the Tea Party?
Last Friday, the Sacramento Bee’s Dan Walters took issue with my comments about Lowenthal in a column titled Both left and right in California want automatons in office. Walters’ argument is that I’m just being an unreasonable ideological extremist:
Liberal Democratic factions are just as adamant about enforcing their ideological dicta. Pity the Democratic politician who doesn’t endorse same-sex marriage, abortion rights, tax increases, animal rights or carbon reduction, to name a few of the left’s current shibboleths.
A case in point is a lengthy screed by Robert Cruickshank who writes for Calitics, a website by and for leftish activists, about Alan Lowenthal, a liberal Democratic state senator from Long Beach who’s running for Congress this year.
Cruikshank sees Lowenthal, one of the Legislature’s brainier and less robotic members, as an ideological traitor for failing to march in lock step with himself and other “progressives” about building a bullet train.
Actually, my beef with Lowenthal isn’t that he’s failing to march in lockstep. It’s that he is so consistently wrong about the project, repeatedly attacking it despite evidence showing his attacks are baseless. In fact, in the article Walters criticizes, I pointed out that Lowenthal cites a discredited Berkeley Transportation Institute in order to criticize the system’s ridership projections, but totally ignores the work of an independent peer review committee that found the ridership projections were sound. That’s just one example of many.
If Lowenthal actually had a legitimate point about the HSR project, I wouldn’t go after him the way I do. But he doesn’t. Instead he continues to make claims that are disproven or unproven in order to try and undermine the project. And he’s been doing it since 2009, soon after voters approved the project.
Walters is opposed to the HSR project too, and I’ve criticized him for it as well. So he is a natural defender of Lowenthal:
Lowenthal has, indeed, been a critic of the convoluted, often erroneous and oft-changed plans for the bullet train emitted by the California High-Speed Rail Authority – plans that are now being revised for the umpteenth time.
Of course, to Walters it’s actually a bad thing that the Authority is taking steps to address concerns and constantly improve the proposal. Had they sat and done nothing Walters would attack them for being unresponsive.
So if Lowenthal were going after the project on the basis of anything remotely resembling hard evidence, I might be more inclined to agree with Walters that Lowenthal is just trying to be a good legislator. But he’s not.
More importantly, given the politics of HSR – with Democrats, including President Obama and Governor Brown on one side and Tea Party Republicans on the other – Lowenthal is going to have to pick a side. There’s no other option. If Lowenthal votes against funding HSR in the legislature this year, it will be a victory for Tea Party Republicans like Doug LaMalfa and Jeff Denham and a defeat for Governor Brown, President Obama, and the California Congressional delegation that Lowenthal wants to join. There’s just no way around that political fact.
But Walters doesn’t want to deal with that reality. Instead he wants to attack me for pointing out that it exists:
But to Cruikshank, he’s a traitor to the cause, whatever that might be.
“So Lowenthal has a choice in front of him,” Cruikshank writes. “Will he side with Obama, Brown and congressional Democrats and vote to build high-speed rail in California in 2012? Or will he side with Tea Party Republicans and vote against high-speed rail?”
That sounds like radio shock jocks John and Ken threatening to put Republicans’ “heads on a pike” if they vote for tax increases.
Well, that actually is the choice before Lowenthal, whether Walters would like it to be the case or not. It’s kind of flattering to be compared to John & Ken – as much as I despise them, if I had a tenth of their influence I’d be happy – but that’s not really the issue.
No, the issue is whether Nancy Pelosi or David Axelrod will put Lowenthal’s head on a pike for helping boost the Tea Party Republicans by defunding California’s high speed rail project. Sorry Dan Walters, I’m just the messenger on this one.
That being said, I very much welcome Walters’ column – because it reinforces the point that Lowenthal is being pushed to pick sides. That’s a good narrative to build, as it makes it that much more difficult for Lowenthal to turn on his party and his president and undermine the HSR project.