California the Bellwether

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

Once again California set the pace on a policy issue that is influencing national debate when the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) declared its intention to find a way for college athletes to be compensated for the use of their name or likeness.  The NCAA’s turn of mind is sure to confirm for many California politicians and activists that what they do here sets the trend for the rest of the country. But is the rest of the country ready to follow California’s progressive path?

Taking a narrow view of California’s influence particularly with paying college athletes, I have written it is a good idea with its emphasis on individuality and rewarding merit.

Taking a broader view, I question if the rest of the country is ready for all of California’s progressive ways.

As many have commented following the NCAA pronouncement, California is considered a bellwether—a trendsetter. The term bellwether refers an old English term dealing with farming when a ram with a bell around its neck  led a flock of sheep. It’s safe to assume, people and governments officials in other states don’t think of themselves as sheep.

There is no question that California political actions have influenced national change from tax revolts to gay marriage. The trend continues with the NCAA coming around after Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill allowing “fair pay for play” principally authored by Senator Nancy Skinner of Berkeley. How the NCAA implements that change is unclear at this time. 

Other states have offered different political actions and attitudes over the years that haven’t caught on. But California because of its large population, economic strength and home to national trendsetting businesses is different from other states and does have greater influence nationally.

The response by the NCAA will act as an incentive and spur for liberal lawmakers that they can direct national policy.

Yet, not all California initiatives catch on.

State and some local government officials have voted to emphasize those ways by forbidding travel or dealings in states who pass laws of which they disapprove. That has not brought a shaky, “we’ll do better” response from those states.

While the state influenced car manufacturing nationally, the battle over mileage mandates now brewing has split the car building community and is yet to be decided. California may prevail in setting its own standards and hope that the large California market will force manufacturers to comply elsewhere, but so far there is resistance.

Whether the California way will catch on might be tested in the presidential election, with California progressive policies seeming to find a home with many of the Democratic presidential candidates. A nominee strongly espousing this philosophy can take the message nationally and see how many fellow Americans agree with those California ways.

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