Earth To California Voters: We Have Created A Train Wreck!
By Hannah Beth Jackson
Speak Out California
The latest poll shows that Arnold Schwarzenegger now holds the embarassing distinction of having the same 22% favorability rate as Gray Davis had when Davis became the first Governor in modern-day California to be recalled by an angry electorate.
Of course the public is angry again and for good reason: we're at a 12.3% unemployment rate; we have one of the highest foreclosure rates in the country; the Republicans in the legislature continue to demand that we cut the taxes of fat-cat corporations and the well-heeled oil industry and yet demand more from hard-working Californians, while providing us with less.
We're looking at a billionaire who thinks she's Queen and thinks she's equipped to "govern" the state. This is the same person who failed to vote for two decades and has, during this campaign, done more flip-flops than Arnold can do push-ups.
We've got a $19.3 Billion deficit that can't be filled by getting rid of "fraud, waste and abuse" because there isn't enough "fraud waste and abuse" to fill a thimble of the state's deficit. E-Meg wants us to think that, because she presided over a very successful business we should elect her to run the state of California. But increasing profits isn't what a state government is supposed to do. The goal of business is profit. We all know that---and if not, just check out Goldman-Sachs which says by making all this money, it's doing "the lords work." The role of government is to provide for its people. If we can tighten our belts and give more services for the dollar, that's great, but the way to judge the success of government is by how well we educate our children, how well we protect our communities and how well we plan and build for the future.
There is no question that Queen Meg is not equipped or prepared to govern our state. That being said, the problem goes well beyond who we decide to have at the controls of the train. The problem is rather the train itself and the tracks upon which it rides.
George Skelton observes in the L.A. Times that the problems we are facing don't totally fall at the feet of the governor---although there is plenty of blame to go around on that score. The problem is an obvious one: California's system of governance is a mess. It doesn't work because it is a hodgepodge of stops and starts that don't mesh, don't allow majority rule and don't really require that anyone take responsibility for what they're doing in Sacramento. Applying the train analogy, we've got old and different kinds of rails to ride upon that don't go in a straight line, aren't even the same and dead-end all along the route.
I'm no fan of Queen Meg, Meg Whitless, or whatever other cute and probably accurate nicknames are out there which describe her cluelessness and imperial notion of governance. She is clearly unqualified to try to govern the largest state in the nation. But even if she were qualified, had voted over the last 20plus years (which horrorfyingly she has not), the state is simply ungovernable in its present configuration. Period.
Those who have studied or have any experience with state government know that it has been immobilized by several initiatives. Each of them may have had, in their day, a well-intended purpose, but put together they create an alphabet soup of dysfunction. They bump into each other, force the train to stop and turn circles when the train should be moving forward.
What is interesting is that no one knows this better than Jerry Brown. Perhaps that is why he's speaking more in global concepts than popular but empty promises of cleaning up government or as our now very unpopular governor was accustomed to saying before he became such, "I'm going to blow up the boxes." Hmmmmm.
Let's be clear on what the problems are and not what the right-wing spin machines have so effectively, albeit dishonestly claimed to be the reasons for our state's deteriorating quality-of-life:
1- We have a revenue problem. It was created by so-called "free market" policies promoted by the Republicans and epitomized by the Bush Administration's deregulation of just about everything---from the banks and financial institutions (the Goldman-Sachs syndrome) to the de facto deregulation of the oil industry (thanks to MMS's cozy relationship with the oilies) to giving additional tax-breaks here in California to big monopolies that promised and delivered absolutely nothing in exchange. We have reduced taxes on the wealthiest among us and refused to create a more level-playing field for our young people who ask only the same opportunities that the prior generations had to work hard and live the California Dream.
2- We're both the most and least democratic state in the country. We require a 2/3 vote of the legislature to pass a budget and a 2/3 vote to increase taxes. No other state does this; no other state is chronically late in getting their fiscal house in order every year. At the same time, we have given the people greater access to direct democracy than most other states through the creation of the initiative and referendum process. (See number 4 below)
3- Term-limits means we expect the least-experienced people to run the most diverse and complex state in the country. We are running the 8th largest economy in the world with inexperienced, short-term leaders. Term limits has been a disaster for good government. Ask Dems and Reps alike (at least those Reps who care about government and making sure it works, whether they think it should come in Extra Large or Small). We foolishly think that we're punishing the politicians by limiting the length of time they can serve. In fact, what we're doing is short-changing ourselves.
4- Money, not the people, are controlling public policy. The unique system of direct democracy has given way to big businesses buying their way onto the ballot. Just ask why was there a constitutional amendment on the ballot which would have given PG&E greater monopolistic control than it already has in its service areas (which represent the majority of the state)?
Who are these people who are now challenging the bipartisan global warming measure that will open up California as the leader---in jobs and technology for creation of an alternative energy industry to lead the country and world away from dirty, dangerous fossil fuels? They are four major TEXAS-BASED OIL companies. It is clear that when Hiram Johnson proposed the initiative as a way to insure that the people would be able to trump the power of the railroads (that were controlling the legislature in the early 1900's), the last thing he dreamed would be that those same greed-driven, monopolistic entities would be taking control of the state yet again,buying their way onto the ballot and then spending millions to mislead the public as to their intentions.
Of course, adding to the corporate take-over of democracy, both in California and the nation is the outrageous U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United. In one fell swoop, this biased, "free-market" cabal has all but assured right-wing monopolies will control the future of elections and electoral politics for years to come.
All that being said, there is one thing that is clear: If we want to get California back on track, we certainly don't want the party of NO to be in charge. We've seen what they've done nationally---and what kind of pollution, dysfunction and economic destruction they bring when we give them the power to do so. Look no farther than the Gulf of Mexico and Wall Street for starters. The right-wing that has taken over a once moderate, but business-leaning party, hates government (unless they're running it) and doesn't care if they take the state or country down with them as long as they regain control. That's not democracy and that's not what we, the people, are entitled to receive.
We need to fix the system and thus the train tracks before we expect to turn this train around. Unless and until we do that, we're going to see our beloved California continue its journey into the abyss and wonder why it happened.
This crisis is well-beyond any individual candidate and any single election. We've got to wake up to the mess that has befallen the rules of government in California. We, the people, want and deserve good schools, good roads, clean air and water, safe streets and economic opportunity. Until we straighten out how we run this state, we're not going to get what we need for a brighter tomorrow. Time is running out.
Hannah-Beth Jackson is the President of Speak Out California. She also served six years in the California State Assembly, representing the 35th District encompassing Ventura, Oxnard and much of Santa Barbara County. She served as Chair of the Committee on Natural Resources, Chair of the Assembly Select Committee on Coastal Protection and Co-Chair of the Assembly Select Committee on Title IX. Other leadership positions included serving as chair of the Legislative Womens Caucus and chair of the Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials Committee.