Monday, May 18, 2009

Kalifornia Krunchtime

Even the Governator can't save California.

The world's seventh largest economy is teetering on the edge of financial collapse. It's the price to be paid for getting a little too carried away with illusions of democracy. California's constitution requires two-thirds majorities to pass budgets or to increase taxes. The natural result in a fiercely partisan legislature is gridlock with budgets not getting passes and taxes not raised to meet the state's basic needs.

Despite all their dire problems, Californians don't like turning out to vote. That leaves most elections decided by older, established white folks who (this is California after all) tend to be either far right or far left. That, in turn, translates into very little middle ground in the state's legislature or, put another way, a huge no-man's land between the trenches on either side.

And then there's the sorry business of binding referenda. It isn't hard to get a particular proposition on the ballot for the next election and the results are binding on the legislature. Dumb, dumb and dumber. It resulted in the controversial Proposition 8 that banned same-sex marriage in California. In Louisiana, a state known for its barrel-bottom educational standards, voters were given the opportunity to choose tax cuts or education funding. Guess which option won?

In other words, direct democracy in the form of binding plebiscites breeds dysfunction. California is facing real problems in the very near future. If it can't reform its governance, it's toast.


Bryan Choate said...

You left out another important factor: geography. People forget their are a ton of rural, Republican areas throughout California.

Now, personally, I am torn by the concept of direct democracy, both as as guy with a grad degree in political science and as a Democrat, because there is a lot of good that comes from people being able to challenge the institution, but there is also a lot of bad the comes from it.

But, regardless, there is a gap. We have been fighting to close that gap--we closed that gap in the 9 battle ground states for Obama, and now we are putting our experience to use here, in our home of California, to close that gap in favor of Democratic ideals, but it is going to be tough precisely because so many aspects of California society create that gap--as you mentioned.

We have figured it out though, but none of the makes a difference until we start winning seats or issues.

Take care,

Bryan Choate

The Mound of Sound said...

But don't you think Bryan that there's a point at which direct democracy simply erodes effective governance?

Given that the trend lately has been toward low voter turnouts, aren't these plebiscites vulnerable to being skewed to excessively empower special interest groups?

You, for example, want to entrench Democratic ideals. To what extent can they be imposed by political action on an apolitical society?

I guess it's the balance issue that confounds me. I too favour progressive politics but I fear a tyrannical left just as much as a despottic right.