SACRAMENTO – God help California from its current crop of wealthy "moderates" who believe that the only thing that will save our state is a dose of higher taxes. They continue to embrace electoral rule changes that ultimately will undermine the Republicans' supposedly hard line against tax hikes.
June 5 saw was the first election to use the "top two" primary system, a form of open primary designed specifically to elect more candidates who resemble former state Sen. Abel Maldonado and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the two politicians most responsible for its implementation. These are two of the least-effective and least-principled Republicans to attain higher office in recent years, so let this serve as a warning about what is to come.
The election also took place utilizing new electoral districts drawn according to a supposedly apolitical redistricting system.
After the smoke cleared, we find these results: "Top two" has obliterated minor parties and assured that the ideas they could bring to the general election will not get a fair hearing. In many legislative races, the general election will pit two members of the same party against each other, which is part of the system's design. Top two was supposed to promote greater choice, but voters will have fewer choices.
Top two is supposed to reduce the influence of big money, but record amounts were spent in the primary cycle. This system will only increase the power of moneyed interests. Now winning candidates will need to run in two open, general elections, rather than in a narrow primary, then in a general election for what was typically a safe seat. That takes a lot more money. Who do you think will provide it?
Redistricting was supposed to take the politics out of politics, but media reports showed that Republicans improperly vetted the redistricting commission members, allowing agenda-driven lefties on the panel.
Between the two "reforms," it's clear what will happen after November. Democrats are likely to gain a rock-solid two-thirds majority in both houses of the Legislature, where they then can raise taxes at will.
Another "moderate" reform has also gone into effect – the elimination of the two-thirds vote requirement to pass state budgets. We can already see what has happened as a result of that change. In this cycle, Republicans don't have any say in the process, because Democrats, who already have sizable majorities in both houses, no longer need GOP votes to pass their budgets.
I'm not sure I see anything moderate about giving one party and its most extreme elements unalloyed power to pass budgets.
Fortunately, these political reformers were unsuccessful in creating a state constitutional convention that would have enabled the liberals who dominate our political process to cast aside many of the taxpayer protections in the California Constitution. But some of them are eager to see the initiative, recall and referendum process hobbled, so as to make average folks more dependent than ever on the Legislature.
These good-government types argue that Democrats and Republicans are too partisan (true), that liberals are too focused on insanity such as banning foie gras and imposing regulations on tanning salons (also true), and that conservatives are too focused on social issues such as gay marriage (yet again, true). But their solutions miss the mark by more than a country mile.
Everyone knows the political system in our state Capitol is broken, but the moderates' naïveté and failure to consider the law of unintended consequences is infuriating.
The problem isn't that political parties fight with each other. The problem is that one party, in particular, is in control of the Legislature and statewide constitutional offices, and that this party is controlled by the public-sector unions. Note how infrequently these moderate reformers point to the problem of union dominance.
In a typical newspaper editorial in favor of the 2010 ballot measure that created the top-two primary system, the Marin Independent Journal opined: "Proposition 14 could help bring cooperation and collaborative problem solving back to Sacramento." As silly as partisan displays can be, I much prefer a world of political debate, where two parties hold each other accountable, rather than a world where few of the political actors have any governing principles and instead work together in a cooperative way to divvy up the spoils provided by taxpayers. The idea that Sacramento would be swept up in a bipartisan spirit of reform is too funny for words.
The ostensible goal of these reforms sounds sincere, but I suspect that most of their advocates have a darker agenda. They know the proposals will help Democrats pick up either enough seats or install enough wobbly Republicans to raise taxes. Once that big battle over taxes is over, there will no longer be a stumbling block to the infrastructure-spending and other programs these business interests support.
The joke will be on them, of course. They envision a world where they are in the back rooms, diverting tax loot toward the infrastructure projects they desperately want. But instead the unions will control those back rooms, just as they do now. These businesses – the ones who sell the rope to the hangman – will soon find their necks in a tightening noose. Sure, they will get their occasional privileges, but the business climate around them will continue to decline.
Ultimately, there will be fewer principled legislators to stand up against tax hikes and regulations just on the grounds that they are wrong. Fewer legislators will focus on creating a better climate for all businesses and not just the favored few. Fewer legislators will call for measures to reform government and stretch tax dollars rather than finding more revenue.
I prefer a battle that at least occasionally revolves around an idea rather than an era of bipartisanship where both parties quietly plunder the rest of us