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Changes needed to make state more business-friendly, says CalChamber CEO
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CalChamber President and CEO Allan Zaremberg talks to attendees of the Turlock Chamber of Commerce-hosted Business Leadership Summit on Wednesday.

As the president and CEO of CalChamber, Allan Zaremberg, travels to every corner of California talking to the small business owners who comprise the membership of local Chambers of Commerce, he inevitable hears the same complaint.

That complaint: business owners are fed up with restrictive government regulations, which they say make it more difficult and costly to do business.

Zaremberg has a readymade answer to the concern, one which he told Turlock business owners on Wednesday during a Turlock Chamber of Commerce-hosted Business Leadership Summit.

“If you want to change the policy, you have to change the politicians,” Zaremberg said. “That’s the bottom line, because they’re the ones responsible for the policy.”

While local residents may be happy with their politicians, Zaremberg pointed to Democratic representatives from Marin, Santa Barbara, San Diego, and Santa Monica who oftentimes endorse business-unfriendly measures.

Frequently, those politicians fail to truly represent their districts, Zaremberg said.

Say a district leans heavily democratic. As such, the Democrat candidate will win on the November ballot, regardless of who that person is.

That Democratic candidate is decided through primary elections, which only see about 25 percent of the electorate participate.  As voters were previously disallowed crossing party lines in primaries, this created a system where about 13 percent of the electorate essentially chose a candidate to represent an entire district.

In catering to those generally extreme voters, candidates oftentimes take hard-line positions popular among primary voters, which may not be good for the state at large.

“They aren’t here to care about your jobs,” Zaremberg said. “But your jobs, unfortunately, depend on what they do.”

And, in the past, those politicians’ seats have been secured by gerrymandered district boundaries. Drawn by elected officials themselves, 98 percent of California’s voting districts were slanted so heavily to either registered Democrats or Republicans that they were deemed “uncompetitive” by Zaremberg.

But this year, the entire process changed. Voters approved Proposition 11 in 2008, and Prop 14 in 2010, both of which will take effect this year.

Prop 11 took the power to draw district boundaries out of legislators’ hands, instead empowering a citizens’ commission to draw the lines. The resulting districts are generally more politically balanced.

And Prop 14 changed how primaries work, allowing voters to support any candidate in primaries and moving only the top two vote-getters to the November ballot. In some areas, this means a Republican is facing a Republican, or a Democrat a Democrat, with the other party left on the sideline.

As such, those heavily-Democratic areas now face a choice: do voters pick an extremist candidate, or a more centrist option who can draw Republican voters into his or her tent?

“You have to really represent your community in an election like that,” Zaremberg said.

The CalChamber’s political wing is working to move the legislature more to the center. Chamber workers find which candidates are the most responsive, and who care the most about business and jobs.

Then CalChamber offers financial support, helping to turn the tide in favor of the business-friendly candidates.

The combination of altered primaries, redrawn districts, and the new targeted CalChamber fundraising could represent the first opportunity in years to make significant change in the partisan, gridlocked political makeup of Sacramento, according to Zaremberg.

"I think I'm excited about this election, because there is a chance to make a difference,” he said.