California Can No Longer Coast

Charles Crumpley
Editor and Publisher of the San Fernando Valley Business Journal

Poor Gov. Jerry Brown. He apparently still thinks it’s the 1970s.

He’s been saying lately that California’s progressive legislation – environmentalism, greater rights for immigrants, wealth redistribution – is setting the trend for the entire nation. A template for all to follow.

“We can do a lot of things in California to shift the (political) climate throughout the whole country,” Brown was quoted as saying last week.

Sorry, Jerry, but you may be stuck in a time warp. America doesn’t work like that anymore.

Oh, sure, there was a time, a glorious era that lasted a few decades, when California was indeed the shining example for the whole country. The state’s terrific (and affordable!) university system and its environmental legislation – back when the whole country was desperate for a clean-up – were models for the country. Believe it or not, California’s roads and highways were once the envy of America.

But everything began changing about 30 or so years ago. A group of states began drifting left and another group took a step or two to the right. Steadily, over the years, these two groups marched further apart. Today, Brown may look behind him and see Massachusetts, Illinois and some other states following California’s lead. But he apparently hasn’t noticed that other parade, the one led by Texas.

Increasingly, each group is made up of True Believers. The California-led group thinks their opposites are mostly benighted rubes who have hateful tendencies. The Texas ilk thinks the California types have come untethered from reality and are pushing their group of states along a tragic trajectory. (None of this is meant to be a judgment, by the way. Just a statement of obvious fact.)

Go ahead. See what happens if you get these two groups together to decide any…well, I guess they do that. It’s called Washington.

The point: America really has become two warring camps, worse even than Charlie Sheen and Denise Richards. And Brown’s California is leading only one of them.

We know all this, of course. But what we tend to overlook is that two distinct political cultures have formed. And are firming up. While Brown signs legislation giving illegal immigrants the right to have a drivers license, 34 states have passed voter I.D. laws of some kind, many of them this year. While California is moving to make gun ownership even stricter, voters in Colorado last month bounced out two state senators in recall elections because they had voted to ban magazines that hold more than 15 rounds. Just last week, the Wisconsin attorney general put out a press release touting the fact that his office had issued its 200,000th permit in the two years since that state passed its concealed-carry law; he bragged about how his office can process more than 1,000 concealed-carry applications a week, no problem.

All this does have implications for business. If you operate a company here and sell your service or product in other parts of the country, you probably already know that what works well here doesn’t always play in proverbial Peoria.

I mean, you can tout how your product has a very low carbon footprint and you’ll receive warm applause in Los Angeles. But you may get icy silence in Texas, where the oil industry is revered, or in Oklahoma City, where the equivalent of L.A.’s Jonathan Club is, yes, the Petroleum Club.

Likewise, you are all but required in California to put out press releases about how your company is doing its part to fight global warming, and that plays great in states such as Massachusetts. But you may want to keep that release in the drawer in, say, North Carolina, which passed a law last year that basically instructed its coastal commission to ignore any predictions of rising sea levels.

Again, this is not meant to be judgmental. Just an acknowledgement that this is not the 1970s; the reality is that America now has two political cultures. And California is a leader in only one.

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