Grover Norquist famously said of the U.S. government that his goal was to make it so small it could be drained in a bathtub. Norquistian logic hasn’t shrunk the Byzantine California government, but it has perhaps choked it.
When Proposition 13 became law 30 years ago, the inflationary environment was causing people to be taxed out of their homes. People demanded relief. So, what they got instead was a tax reform that took no account of inflation, and simply forced the state to depend on sales tax.
A few more reforms that arose from behind the Orange Curtain included term limits, ostensibly aimed at legislative barons like Willie Brown, and legislative districts gerrymandered to the point that they almost never change parties, even when the incumbent’s term limits are up, and you have a broken state government.
The legislators on both sides are ideological tools of the parties. Just ask Assemblywoman Farra, who was kicked out of her Capitol offices by Speaker Karen Bass for not voting with the party on a vote that wasn’t going to win anyway, or the Republicans who won’t compromise on a budget even when it would help their district.
Even Governor Schwarzenegger, the only actual free agent in the state government—he can go left, go right without asking permission—has been powerless to force an on-time budget. Again. Even his threats of paying state employees minimum wage have created no action, just more of a circus.
In spite of this, and in spite of asinine direct democracy that has made our state’s laws and constitutions a bastard of Frankenstein, California is still leading in some areas on the progressive front. California is doing more than the feds and most states on global warming. California legalized gay marriage and will sustain that legalization in a popular vote.
But to me those are just tragic glimpses of a stifled potential.