My Interview With Overreach

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

The address was for a small office in an Inland Empire retail development, which had been mostly empty since construction was finished in mid-2008.

I knocked on the door and a secretary buzzed me in, and then led me to a big, well-appointed office. On the walls were a painting of Napoleon contemplating Russia and a photo of the retired quarterback Brett Favre throwing into triple coverage.

The man entered and took a seat behind the desk. He was an average-sized man, but his arms were so freakishly long – longer perhaps than he was tall — that he could reach over the desk to shake my hand.

“Good afternoon,” he said. “I’m Overreach.”

“What’s it like to be the #1 enemy in California politics?” I asked, and so our interview began.

OVERREACH: It’s totally weird. I gave up doing business in California years ago.

Q: Why’s that?
O: Like a lot of rich guys, I still live here. You can’t beat the women and the weather. But I moved all my back office and operations out of California more than a decade ago. The regulation was a bit much, even for me.

Q: So where do you work now?
O: I like to use borrowed money to speculate in complicated financial instruments on Wall Street, and you can probably tell that I’ve been advising the hedge funds and the private equity boys on their public relations. But really, I must confess that no place offers as many opportunities as Washington. I really cleaned up there the last decade: the Patriot Act, the Department of Homeland Security, the Iraq War – and that’s just my national security practice.

Q: But in California, everyone says the new legislature, with those big Democratic supermajorities, is going to ring you up and have you working for them?
O: Fat chance. California hasn’t done big things since the first Jerry Brown governorship, and now you’ve inexplicably brought back Ol’ Era of Limits. He puts the kill in killjoy. And I honestly don’t see how a supermajority changes much. Californians have forgotten what it feels like to even try to do big things. People talk about high-speed rail, but that thing is a joke – it’s small and is only going to run for 130 miles in the Central Valley. To get me interested, you’d have to have $200 billion, and the train would have to go to Sacramento, San Diego, and – this last one is essential – Vegas.

Q: But what about taxes and spending? Aren’t the Democrats likely to go over the top?
O: Look, I’d love to see more of both, but I don’t work cheap. And the state is so limited by initiatives and the state constitution that you can’t do the kind of taxes and spending to get me interested. You’re really locked into your current austerity levels of spending – just look at the per capita numbers, and you’ll see California is near historic lows– and to the tax rates in Prop 30.

Q: So people should stop talking about you?
O: Oh, I’m sure you’ll see some silly little bills on weird things, and maybe a few sin taxes or oil severance taxes. But those aren’t much of a reach, you know. Other states have higher rates on those than California. I guess I could see the legislature doing one-state single payer – that intrigues me a little – but the Obama folks will probably stop that push before it gets too far.

Q: So are you done with California for good?
O: Never say never. And I’ll confess that when I’m gone, I sure do miss the weather. But I’m finding I can get nearly the same sunny stuff in the Mediterranean, and there’s plenty of business there. Greece these days is really my kind of place.

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