Advancing a Free Society

California: Worth Saving … Or Looting?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Consider it a day not unlike many others in California.

President Obama landed at LAX late on Monday afternoon – in doing so, both bringing a temporary halt to operations at the nation’s second-busiest airport and further taxing L.A.’s already-overtaxed evening commute.

All to raise a few dollars on the city’s west side.

Which meant hobnobbing with the likes of Will and Jada Smith, Antonio Banderas, Melanie Griffith, Eva Longoria and some other B-listers to be named later.

Obama was coming from Nevada – the only state in America with worse unemployment than California (13.4% vs. 11.9%) – where he unveiled a mortgage-relief initiative.

But California wasn’t deemed worthy of a public event – not unless one counts a Jay Leno taping on Tuesday as part and parcel of the public domain (after Leno, Air Force One heads north to San Francisco for – you guessed it – another fundraiser).

So where’s the backlash, you ask, after yet another presidential loot and run (and yes, speaking of angry, Obama did come across “Occupy L.A.” protestors)?

Sure, Angelenos resent the inconvenience. But they don’t have the numbers to back up their frustration. Obama carried Los Angeles County by nearly 1.34 million votes in 2008 (a shade under 70% of the county vote). He defeated John McCain statewide with 3.26 million votes to spare (61%-37%). You do the math on how many more times Obama would have to shut down the freeways to actually end up in political jeopardy.

Sadly, Obama’s California neglect – ironically, at a time when he’s trying to mend fences in other states in a world of economic hurt (last week’s bus trip through Virginia and North Carolina; this week’s swing through Nevada and Colorado – swing states all) – isn’t the only political oddity in America’s nation-state.

Take, for instance, the recent plight of California Republicans. Apparently, they’ve decided that the only path to political progress is by trying to undo a political negative with an additional negative.

Translation: launch referenda movements to undo ideas not to the GOP’s liking.

That would include:

  • A failed referendum drive aimed at repealing a new state law requiring school textbooks and history lessons to include the contributions of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans.
  • Another referendum drive to undo the California Citizens Redistricting Commission’s reconfiguration of the 40 state senate seats. GOP strategists fear the new map will open the door to a two-thirds Democratic majority, thus rendering GOP state senators all but obsolete.
  • A third referendum drive – this time, to repeal the controversial California Dream Act, which qualifies illegal immigrants who are accepted into California public colleges to receive Cal Grants, community-college waiver fees and other state financial aid beginning in 2013.
  • And, since four is a nice round number: one additional referendum drive (apparently, already on shaky political footing) to undo SB 202, which bars initiatives from being a part of California’s June 2012 primary (Gov. Jerry Brown undoing the change implemented 40 years ago by then-Secretary of State Jerry Brown).

Statistically, the referenda machinations represent an uphill strategy for California Republicans. Of the 348 initiatives that qualified for the California over the course of the past century, voters approved only 116 of them. Of the 47 referenda that qualified for the ballot, 19 were successful – a 40% success rate.

Then again, what are their options? The California GOP is a decided minority in both legislative chambers; Democrats occupy all state constitutional offices. That pretty much leaves the initiative process as the only means of interjecting conservative beliefs into California’s left-dominated legislative process.

Then again, help perhaps is on the way – oddly enough, in the unlikely form of one Nicolas Berggruen, a Parisian-born billionaire who’s decided to dabble in California politics.

The Think Long Committee for California, a who’s-who of California’s power elite (including Hoover’s George Shultz and Condoleezza Rice) is expected to soon deliver a package of reforms for the Golden State. And where will those reforms end up? Most likely, in initiative form, on next year’s ballot.

It may not sound like progress. And, at some point, Californians may decide they’d had enough of the Golden State’s public discussions and arguments being settled at the ballot box.

But maybe it takes as unlikely and exotic of a figure as a globetrotting billionaire to make California’s famously dysfunctional system this work.

Mr. Berggruen deserves credit: he may not own a home, but he says California is “worth saving”.

And that’s more than can be said of our fundraising-crazed president, who seems to think California is only worth . . . looting.