The calendar year is about to end. What have we learned about California? In political terms the rich got richer and the poor a whole lot poorer. Fiscally 2016 was a win for the status quo. Governor Jerry Brown signed a $167 billion budget that didn’t contain a dime in so-called blue-pencil reductions to individual spending items.
In an election year defined by breaks from tradition, the ballot before California voters next month fits right in. Beyond the historic and highly unusual presidential race, Californians will make their first general election choice between two Democrats for U.S. Senate. And among a fleet of propositions, the voters will be asked to legalize recreational marijuana and about a pair of initiatives that together give Californians the choice to repeal, reform, or keep as is the state’s death penalty.
“East is east and west is west, and never the twain shall meet.” Rudyard Kipling was referencing the British Empire. He might as well have been talking the divide between Washington, D.C., America’s capital, and Sacramento, the capital city of America’s nation-state.
Coming from the “big sky country” of Montana where beautiful views are common around every bend in the road, I am still impressed by the green hills overlooking Point Reyes, the coastal cliffs plunging into the Pacific at Big Sur, and the vistas at San Simeon once enjoyed by Randolph Hearst.
If a California-style Top Two primary were in place for presidential races, in 2008 the nation’s voters would have had to choose between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in the general election. There would have been no “third party” candidates on the ballot – and no chance for voters to show their disgust by writing in “Mickey Mouse.”
On November 8, 2016 Californians will once again have the opportunity to not only elect (or re-elect) local, state, and federal representatives, but also to directly participate in generating public policy. While California’s initiative system is often romanticized, its inflexibility often leads California down a path ripe with unintended consequences and few options for fixing past mistakes.