The Doomsday Scenario

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)

I recently mused on Facebook about which might arrive first: Christmas or a new budget agreement for California, which is already more than two months late. A conservative friend quickly responded with his hope that Christmas would come first.

You might call the Republican legislative strategy in California the Doomsday Scenario. And it’s not a threat. Republicans seem moore than happy to usher in the closing of state government. California will run out of cash within a month. It’s not at all clear that the governor could keep the state open if that happened. But for Republicans, there might be very little to lose.

The party is already terribly unpopular in the state. There’s little hope of any change in that. Nearly all of the Republican legislators are insulated from being kicked out of office in November by a gerrymander. And Republicans have little hope of gaining any new seats from Democrats because of the same gerrymander. Republicans already have thrown their best-known, best-liked politician, Arnold Schwarzenegger, under the bus, all but dismissing him as a Democrat. The California GOP is stuck at the bottom of the pit. So why not blow up the state? There’s nowhere to go but up.

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Prop 2. backers suing to change their own ballot statement

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)

In California, supporters of Prop 2, a Humane Society-backed ballot initiative to regulate how farm animals are confined, appear to have made a little bit of legal history. Earlier this month, they essentially sued themselves in an attempt to change their own ballot argument in favor of the measure.

The lawsuit, which is attached below, makes for odd reading. The language of the lawsuit sounds almost apologetic, asking for a "very minor change" (italics not mine) in both the ballot argument and the rebuttal to the "no" side’s argument. Technically, the supporters are suing the Secretary of State, but they’re suing the Secretary of State to change something they themselves wrote. The reason for the filing? To avoid voter confusion, the lawsuit says.

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A California Constitutional Convention?

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)

“All political power is inherent in the people. Government is instituted for their protection, security and benefit, and they have the right to alter or reform it when the public good may require." Article II, Section 1, of the Constitution of California.

I read with interest that Jim Wunderman of the Bay Area Council suggested last week that California convene a constitutional convention to look at its entire system of government. Joel Fox on Fox and Hounds Daily is skeptical. I posted on my New America Foundation blog that it certainly is an interesting idea. I could see Gov. Schwarzenegger, who has reached his "throw up his hands" moment, back such a convention.

Emails and memos I turned up in reporting for my book, The People’s Machine, show that Schwarzenegger’s aides and political advisors discussed just such an idea — albeit not too seriously and not at length — in 2004.

A convention might provide a method to take on many of the untouchable subjects of California politics. Wunderman mentions the two-thirds requirements for passing a budget (a fact of California life since the 1930s) and for raising taxes (a provision of Prop 13, passed in 1978). But any constitutional review needs to be bigger, and think about the state government as a whole. The entire structure of the state, which was largely put in place, should be re-examined.

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Department of Hypocrisy: California Republicans, Champions Of Direct Democracy, Now Want To Violate It

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)

Today’s LA Times story by my longtime colleague Evan Halper makes one thing painfully clear. California’s Republican legislative leaders, for all their championing of direct democracy and the rule of the people when it comes to subjects such as Prop 13 (property taxes) and Prop 22 (same-sex marriage ban), are prepared to violate all sorts of voter-approved initiatives to get a budget deal and avoid a tax increase.

Halper got his hands on a memo that details what Republicans are talking about. As Halper recounts the memo’s contents, the Republican proposals involve "diverting money specifically set aside by voters for local governments, road and other transportation projects, mental health programs and early childhood education." To give a little history, voters set aside money for transportation via ballot initiative with Prop 42 (2002), for local government with Prop 1A (2004), mental health programs with Prop 63 (2004), and early childhood with Prop 10 (1998).

For Republicans to want to raid such funds is hypocrisy. To borrow against such funds in the name of opposing tax increases is dishonest. The act of raiding such funds creates a debt for the state that must be paid back. The very act of raiding the funds is thus a tax increase in disguise.

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Parra’s punishment indicates political parties are not about governance

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)

Sources and friends sent me a number of thoughtful criticisms of yesterday’s post about Assemblywoman Nicole Parra’s banishment from the Capitol and Assemblywoman Patty Berg’s comment, "We have spent millions of dollars ensuring that Nicole comes back three times in a row." These emailers make some strong points.

Among these: Party discipline is an important value. It’s selfish for one member to hold up something as important as the budget because of her own constituency. If legislative leaders were to permit such behavior, there would be chaos. Another criticism involved Parra’s cause — the water bond, which many see as welfare for the ag biz.

Let’s leave the water debate for another time (though it’s worth noting there is a bipartisan compromise on the table) and take on the party discipline point. Party discipline is fine — if legislative leaders enforce it in the service of delivering for the state. But in this era, when it comes to the budget and resolving California’s major problems, legislative leadership consistently has failed to reach timely compromises.

Perhaps it’s time for a new approach that seeks not to punish moderates but to encourage them to lead in the way in finding compromise. But there’s little interest in real compromise among leaders of either party. They’re about control, not governance. It speaks volumes that Parra, a high profile moderate who has had three tough races, has been kicked out of the Capitol.

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Banished Moderate Update: Why Didn’t Parra Stay Bought?

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)

In the coverage of how Assemblywoman Nicole Parra was kicked out of the Capitol (she is now the only one of California’s 120 legislators without an office of the building) for the crime of abstaining on a meaningless budget vote because a water bond was not attached, I was struck by this quote from Parra’s Democratic Assembly colleague Patty Berg (D-Eureka). It speaks volumes about the mindset of legislators here. And for those who want to know why Californians favor direct democracy over legislative action, it should give you a sense of why we Golden State voters choose the ballot over our lawmakers.

From this Sacramento Bee Story:

"We have spent millions of dollars ensuring that Nicole comes back three times in a row. The way it’s done here is that if you are in the majority party, and you are a Democrat, you vote on the budget."

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Why Monterey Would Be a Cool Capital

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)

This piece of mine which ran in yesterday’s Los Angeles Times started out as an attempt at satire. But now I think I’ve talked myself into it. Why not relocate state government to Monterey? The state government could use a change of scenery..

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A Test for Union Leadership

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 LA Times recently published an excellent investigative story on Tyrone Freeman, the leader of California’s largest SEIU local, which represents home health care givers. It’s an outrageous tale of self-dealing, with money from union affiliates going to the business pursuits of Freeman’s wife and mother-in-law.

Freeman, 38, is a young and talented leader; I saw that firsthand as a reporter covering labor for the LA Times in 2006. Freeman is popular within the union movement, and close to SEIU’s international president, Andy Stern. (The last time I saw Freeman, he and Stern were sitting down to a meal at the Pacific Dining Car). So this is going to be a difficult test of the union movement in LA and nationallly.

But it’s a test. Freeman needs to step down and offer a full-throated apology. The union needs to ask for an independent audit of the local. And the public needs to hear immediately from union leadership — Stern, county labor chief Maria Elena Durazo, other top SEIU leaders such as janitors’ union chief Mike Garcia — about how such conduct must not be permitted in the movement. So far, the silence is deafening. Stern, in the story, refuses to address the conduct in question. That won’t cut it.

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Minimum Wage could be a dangerous game for the Governor

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)

My first reaction to the leak that Schwarzenegger might sign an executive order cutting state workers’ pay: this wakes folks up around the state, puts much-needed attention on the budget problem, and prepares the public for the difficult changes — a tax hike that Republicans will hate and a rainy day fund or spending restraint that is not the Democrats’ cup of tea — that may be part of the final budget agreement.

My day 2 reaction: This is a dangerous game the governor is playing. Here’s one potential problem. Schwarzenegger had received some support from the big state workers’ union, SEIU Local 1000, for his suggestion to borrow against the future revenues of a modernized lottery. But now he’s scared those members. He could be risking that support. And more broadly, SEIU has been helpful to the governor.

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Could they all go down together?

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 Field Poll has recently conducted surveys on 5 of the 11 initiatives — plus one bond measure — scheduled to appear on California’s November ballot. The numbers are all over the place, but there’s reason to believe that all six measures polled could be headed to defeat in November.

How’s that?

Well, the lack of initial support for a ballot initiative is almost always an indication that it won’t pass. Such measures are hard to sell even when they, at first blush, have appeal. To start out with less than 50 percent support and win requires a Herculean effort (and usually, very weak or non-existent opposition). On that basis alone, we can count out Prop 11, the redistricting measure, which shows only 42 percent in the poll, and Prop 4, parental notification, which has 48 percent.

The same is also probably true of Prop 8, the ban on same-sex marriage, which also has only 42 percent in a recent Field Poll. One caution: the politics of gay marriage, which are really the politics of marriage, are complicated and relatively new, and other polling has shown this to be a tighter race than that. This is likely to be a 51-49 kind of campaign.

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