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One month ago I made this observation:
The comment seemed to resonate, confirming my intuition.
I chose the word realignment because it connotes more than the usual tug-of war for power. It suggests something more fundamental.
Max Weber said politics is the “long and slow boring of hard boards.” Usually change is slow, incremental, a grind.
But every so often, things become so intolerable there’s a sharp break. Politics becomes too important to be left to politicians, and the public at large – the People – demands transcendent action.
Why do I think such a moment may be in the making?
For years California has been deteriorating, and everyone knows it. 53 percent of residents surveyed say they’re considering leaving.
Think about that: over half our people want out. That’s called a failed state.
Yet there’s been no political accountability. It’s been six years since a single Majority Party lawmaker lost an election. As a result, one party accounts for 45 percent of voters but over 75 percent of Legislators.
Why hasn’t this gap been bridged, between public dissatisfaction and political change? What’s been missing is a catalyst, an attention-focusing event that identifies who’s responsible.
The COVID Catalyst
California lawmakers wield immense power yet operate in relative obscurity. That’s largely by design: shutting out the public empowers the special interests who really run the government.
Most people, moreover, are focused on the Capitol in Washington much more than the one in Sacramento.
But during the COVID shutdown, that’s changed. Everyone’s attention is fixed squarely on our state government – specifically, our state’s Governor – if for no other reason than to learn what basic freedoms they’ll lose next.
The reviews are in. People are not liking what they see, with Gov. Newsom’s approval rating falling 12 points between April and June.
As Californians witness the Governor’s botched COVID response in real time, they’re seeing more than just that. They’re now able to see, clear as day, what’s causing our state’s many other problems.
The COVID disaster is exposing all of California’s policy failures in one fell swoop.
In this sense Gavin Newsom has been helpful, as a walking caricature of the special-interest capture that’s caused California’s decline.
Everyone could see, for instance, that he ignored science and parents when he shut down schools at the behest of his wealthiest campaign benefactor, the CTA. That’s providing a newfound appreciation for how this same special interest has ruined much of public education in California through its control of politicians like Newsom.
In the same vein, millions of people have been through a nightmare trying to get benefits from the EDD, Newsom’s Orwellian unemployment agency. They now understand from painful first-hand experience that our state agencies do not serve ordinary Californians.
This is the story behind California’s modern decline: a captured state government serving special interests rather than the public interest and inflicting tremendous suffering on its own people.
State of the State
California’s problems were starting to boil over even before COVID. Despite boasting the world’s fifth largest economy, we have up to half the nation’s homeless. Our infrastructure befits a developing country. Our housing costs are inhumane.
Things have only kept getting worse, with surveys showing the lowest quality of life in the country.
Despite the ostentatious claims of leading politicians, California’s policy outcomes are decidedly illiberal and anti-progressive. We have the highest poverty rate in the nation and about the worst income inequality and widest achievement gaps in our schools.
Consider a few examples of how politicians create these outcomes:
AB 5: Last year Gov. Newsom signed what’s been called “the most malicious and harmful law ever passed in California.” A rich reward for special interests, the law put countless independent professionals out of work.
It hit vulnerable groups like single mothers, people with disabilities, and seniors hardest of all. It’s a big reason California has the highest unemployment rate in the country.
The main Facebook group against this law has 20,000 members – mostly Democrats and Independents. Their opposition played a role in Republican Mike Garcia’s election to Congress in May over a Democrat state lawmaker who voted for AB 5.
PRIDE Industries: In 2018, the Legislature went after the jobs of 120 Californians with disabilities, despite the high marks they’d earned for their work at a Stockton health facility.
A cash-flush special interest group, SEIU, wanted to convert the positions to dues-payers and the Legislature readily obliged.
Charter Schools: Each of the last two years, Gov. Newsom rewarded special interests by signing bills to cripple charter schools. The legislation was widely condemned by civil rights groups, including chapters of the NAACP.
A Cruel Capitol
This is just the tip of the iceberg. The closer Californians look, the more they see policies that no decent person could support.
- They see that it’s our state government depriving working people of their livelihoods — whether independent contractors or low-wage professionals denied a license for arbitrary reasons.
- They see it’s our state government denying our neediest students a decent education — by blocking poor kids from transferring schools, waging war on high-performing public charters, or neglecting special education year after year.
- They see it’s our state government forsaking those in need of treatment and protection —by letting the mentally ill die on our streets, abandoning drug treatment programs for addicts, or turning a blind eye to sex trafficking victims.
- They see it’s our state government pricing lifelong Californians out of our state —by restricting the supply of housing, imposing a slew of regressive taxes, or harassing small businesses with needless regulations.
- They see it’s our state government endangering residents with decrepit infrastructure — by letting roads fall into disrepair, allowing utilities to neglect power line safety, or turning our forests into tinder boxes.
- They’ll see it’s our state government denying Californians a voice in their government—by refusing to hold a vote on bills, cutting off public participation, or misleading voters with inaccurate ballot language.
Have no doubt: for each destructive policy, there’s a special interest with deep pockets. The interests behind AB 5 spent millions electing Governor Newsom. What they’ve bought, ultimately, is indifference to the people he leads.
There is simply not majority public support for these kinds of policies. That’s trouble for Gavin Newsom and his allies, now that COVID has lifted the curtain on the corruption at our State Capitol.
Of course a realignment can take many forms, such as a shift in power between parties or a transformation of the incumbent party. That’s why my own party, if it hopes to capitalize, must offer a viable alternative – it’s own vision for how to turn the state around.
At the end of the day, the people of California are decent and forward-looking. They know our state needs change. And they understand we’re in an extraordinary moment.
In moments like this, the forces that have shaped day-to-day governance are shaken, scrambled, realigned – and suddenly everything is up for grabs. Tectonic plates can shift. Epochal change can happen in the blink of an eye.
California is due – overdue – for a major political realignment.
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