Crazy in California

The Thinker by Rodin

I’m fortunate I don’t live in California.

To recap: in about two weeks a special election will be held. Voters will have the option of throwing out Gray Davis, the twice elected governor of the state. Davis has never been a very popular fellow. He’s about as smooth as sandpaper. Nonetheless, there would be no special election had not a disgruntled Republican with lots of spare cash organized a state wide voter effort to force a special election for his recall. They can do that in California. The rest of the states for some reason figure that if the guy was elected he should serve out his term, unless he committed high crimes and misdemeanors.

But anyhow in California with enough signatures you can force a special election about anything and dictate the terms. This one though is particularly egregious because you get to pick a replacement at the same time you are throwing the guy out. And no majority or run off election is required. Whoever gets the most votes gets in. Consequently a Republican who might well lose a general election in this Democratic state can get swept into office with 30% of the vote or less. This is democracy in action, California style.

Such is life in that peculiar state. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a man whose career consisted of lifting enormous weights and starring in testosterone laden action movies, who has never run for public office, and whose sole claim to politics is being married into the Kennedy clan, figures he can do a good job as governor. And maybe he will win because the polls currently show he is leading, although I can’t figure out why. He looked foolish in the one debate he participated in, and he seems to have the same high opinion of women as his character had in the latest Terminator movie. Arnold even alluded to it when during the debate independent Arianna Huffington gave him a hard time. Arnold said he had a part for her in her next movie: presumably the next lady to have the terminator put her head into a toilet.

It’s quite a collection of gadflies and eccentrics in this election, with the exception of Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante, who by rights should assume the office anyhow if Davis were removed. We have another Republican candidate Tom McClintock who is so far to the right he is likely to fall off the planet, porno publisher Larry Flint, columnist Arianna Huffington (whose voice makes you want to put your fingers in your ears), and Mary Carey, a porno star with great hooters who has no chance of winning but whose videos can’t stay on the shelves of adult video outlets. Them and 130 or so other candidates. I guess there is plenty of choice for voters.

Meanwhile, the legislature, controlled by the Democrats, can’t address a $35B budget deficit very well because a law requires any new taxes to pass by a two thirds majority, which they don’t have. That effectively leaves the Republicans in charge during fiscal emergencies and they won’t, god forbid, allow any new taxes to be incurred. Davis was able to triple car taxes only because of the way that law was written long ago. That extra money, plus borrowing billions of dollars, is how Davis balanced the budget this year. The Republicans couldn’t be bothered to even try because all they kept saying was “No new taxes.”

Meanwhile in flusher economic times California voters basically took away most of the discretionary spending from its legislature. Education, health care and prison spending are dictated by California voter referendum, state law and federal laws, leaving little money for the legislature to cut to fix $35B budget gap.

And yet of course all the candidates are denying this reality. Schwarzenegger is just one of many promising to balance the budget somehow, even though Republicans will slit their own wrists before they vote for a tax increase, and there is not enough money to do it while the economy remains sour in California. And of course by law California must also balance its budget.

In short voters have boxed politicians into a no win situation. They are saying we will have our cake (education, prison, health care spending) and eat it too (but they won’t pay for it when revenues go down). No one can win.

So take it all out on Gray Davis. Put someone else in charge. Just don’t expect the underlying problems to be solved.

A candidate with courage would be leveling with California voters. For example either the referendum which requires educational spending to be at certain levels has to be repealed, or the legislature have to vote to raise taxes, or the state must continue borrow billions of dollars at increasingly high interest rates. This will eventually bankrupt the state or cause California’s debt rating to go to junk bond status. At some point no creditor will lend the state any more money.

It is fitting that Fantasyland started in California. I suggest the capital of California move from Sacramento to Anaheim, and the legislature should meet there in Cinderella’s castle. Clearly Californians are comfortable living in a fiscal fantasy anyhow.