Black Bart 2017: Yes!

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)

It’s hard year to choose a Black Bart. But it’s easy to say who can’t be Black Bart:

President Trump.

You can’t be California’s Black Bart if you don’t have the guts to step foot in the state of California. It’s not good enough to just fly over us on your way to whipping up nuclear war in East Asia. The president is such a wimp. Sad.

But don’t cry. There are so many great candidates for Black Bart. Among those who are worthy:

  • Travis Kalanick lost his gig running Uber, yes, but he managed to stay on its board—and perhaps add to his control. That’s quite a feat.
  • RoseAnn Demoro added to her reputation as the state’s most feared union leader, turning a totally reckless single-payer proposal into a whip that she used to get most of the state’s political leadership in line. She may prove too successful — I do wonder how long she can get away with avoiding scrutiny of her own pay and wealth if she’s going to call other Democrats corporate toadies.
  • Anthony Rendon, the Assembly speaker, for resisting the Demoro purge. Being a grownup is a lonely business these days.
  • Michael Kirst, the Stanford education professor and president of the State Board of Education. He led the completion of what Gov. Brown and his supporters see as the construction of a new accountability system for California schools – and what critics (including yours truly) see as wildly bureaucratic Potemkin Village that makes it impossible for parents to figure out what’s going on with their kids’ schools. Either way, it was undeniably a big change (and a big victory for the teachers’ unions that have supported the governor).
  • Elon Musk, for winning publicity for a nonsensical idea about tunnels under the 405 freeway. Earth to a credulous media and futurists everywhere: Tunneling is never a cheap alternative in transportation. But Musk keeps winning the government subsidies.
  • Kamala Harris—a first-year U.S. senator is now nearly the betting favorite for the Democratic presidential nomination.
  • Eric Garcetti—he got himself re-elected, won the 2028 Olympics (albeit because no other city wanted it), and managed to get national media attention as a presidential candidate. He’s right to run for president, because no L.A. mayor is going to get elected statewide (sorry, Antonio).
  • Kevin De Leon. He pushed through big legislation then decided to take on Feinstein. He has a chance to win – if he starts a real serious campaign. Which he hasn’t yet. (He would have been my vote for Black Bart if he had).
  • The Housing Package Lawmakers. This is my runner-up, While the housing legislative package is not enough to change the reality too much on the ground, it was a big first step, and the many lawmakers that produced it deserve a ton of credit.

My nomination for Black Bart is related to the housing package. One of the most heartening developments in state politics has been the rise of the YIMBY movement—for Yes in My Backyard. We’re seeing people in our state argue for more investment – in housing, infrastructure, and smart development – and it’s about time, given how the shortage of housing has hurt the state and its people economically, socially, and environmentally.

The YIMBYs are still swimming against a larger tide of NIMBYs and cowardly local governments. But in a state with so many phony progressives, it’s good to see somebody – the YIMBYs – take on the mantle of progress.

Yes is a beautiful word. Let’s resolve to use it more in 2018.

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