By Texas Obsessed
By Peter Schrag
It’s been just a little over a year since Lieut. Gov. Gavin Newsom joined a covey of California legislators, all but one of them Republicans, to learn how Gov. Rick Perry pulled off his job-creating Texas miracle.
If you believed that their junket to the Lone Star State was anything but a political stunt you also had to believe in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy.
But it worked like magic (yes, this is a joke). In the year since they returned, California has gained nearly half again as many jobs percentage wise as the nation as a whole – up 2 percent vs. 1.4 percent. The California miracle.
The gains, Steve Levy of the Center for the Continuing Study of the California Economy reported last Friday, “were led by very strong growth in coastal tech economies including the San Jose metro area (+35,000 jobs or 4 percent), San Francisco metro area (+ 35,900 jobs or 3.8 percent), Orange County (+32,800 jobs or 2.4 percent) and San Diego County (+23,300 jobs or 1.9 percent).”
In May and June of this year, California as a whole added more than 84,000 jobs, which, Levy says, is equal to half the national job gains for those months.
Yes, California still has the third highest unemployment rate in the nation—10.7 percent in June, higher than any state other than Nevada and Rhode Island, and its business climate is still rated below all but a handful of other states.
But the link between them is tenuous at best. Nevada ranked third in the nation for its business-friendly tax structure by the Tax Foundation, has the highest unemployment rate in the nation. Vermont, ranked 47th in the nation for tax friendliness, just ahead of California, has an unemployment rate of 4.7 percent.
Delaware is rated below California on business conditions by CNBC but has an unemployment rate of 6.7 percent; North Carolina is ranked fourth best in the nation, but has an unemployment rate of 9.4 percent, only marginally better than California’s. Hawaii, ranked 49th in the nation for business by CNBC – California is 40th on its list - has a 6.4 percent unemployment rate.
And before you get mesmerized by Texas, you better look at what its people are paying for that business friendliness: in pollution, in inadequate health care, in wages and working conditions, in school funding and high school graduation rates, in voting rights and political power.
In her recent book, “As Goes Texas”, New York Times columnist Gail Collins, who’s tried hard to become the poor man’s (or maybe the poor woman’s) Molly Ivins, contends that Texas, Texans, Texas politics and Texan ideas have come to dominate the national agenda, not for the better, of course, but for the worse.
And in part she’s obviously right. The Tea Party is not a pure Texas creation but in its crankiness and its resentment of anything out of Washington, environmentalism and global warming particularly, it has a lot in common with Texas. Texas has clearly had its influence in deregulation of energy and of the financial markets.
Ditto for many politicians of the far right: Tom DeLay, Dick Armey, Rick Perry, Dick Cheney (an honorary Texan in Collins’ book), George W. Bush. It was Texas’s test-based school reforms that became the model for the ill fated and now much disliked No Child Left Behind federal education law (and that helped elect W. in the first place).
More fundamentally, there’s the wide-open spaces mythology, even (or maybe especially) among those in the air-conditioned suburbs, and its associated “don’t tell me what to do with my land and cattle” credo.
Texas’s business-friendliness, as she says, is based in large part on a regressive tax structure under which the poor pay far more of their income than the rich and under which they get some of the worst services in the modern world.
But the poor in California also pay a larger share of their income in state and local taxes than the rich despite the constant refrain of conservatives and their echoes in the media that the rich pay the largest share of state taxes – which, of course, having the largest incomes, they do.
And it wasn’t Texas that started the national tax revolt; it was California with Proposition 13 in 1978. And yes it was Texas that first tried to shut illegal immigrants out of its public schools, but California tried that too, even after the U.S. Supreme Court declared the Texas law unconstitutional. It wasn’t just Texas that led the nation into our growing two-tier economy. California was there, too.
It was California that produced Nixon and Reagan, both once regarded by many of us to be as dangerous to a decent America as any latter-day Texan; Georgia that spawned Gingrich; Pennsylvania that produced Santorum. And whatever happened to Sarah Palin, the crackpot daughter of spaces, not all mythic, even more open than anything in Texas? Texas did not create the Fox network, did not suckle Rush Limbaugh or Grover Norquist.
Collins may be right that if “Texas goes south, it’s taking us along.” But California is even more diverse demographically than Texas, looks even more like the nation will look a generation from now. It’s not dominated by the old open-space fantasies; we have no Alamo and its distorted heroic last-stand myths. We thus have chance, were we but willing, to lead the nation in a more hopeful, progressive direction.
Peter Schrag, whose exclusive weekly column appears every Monday in the California Progress Report, is the former editorial page editor and columnist of the Sacramento Bee. He is the author of Paradise Lost: California’s Experience, America’s Future and California: America’s High Stakes Experiment. His new book, Not Fit for Our Society: Nativism, Eugenics, Immigration is now on sale. View his archived columns here.