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California's Political and Journalistic Class Fails

Matt Welch
May 20, 2009, 11:08am

Now that California's political elite has been thoroughly repudiated at the polls, get ready for a vicious backlash...against the citizens. Take this witheringly sarcastic and petulant editorial in the Sacramento Bee, a paper that (like most in California) utterly failed to convince voters of the virtues of saying Yes.

California political cartooning, personifiedGood morning, California voters. Do you feel better, now that you've gotten that out of your system? [...]

The point is that you're sick and tired of all this political mumbo-jumbo. So you showed those politicians who's in charge. You. You're now officially in charge – of a state that will be something like $25 billion in the hole for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

So, now that you've put those irksome politicians in their place, maybe it's time to think about this: Since you're in charge, exactly what do you intend to do about that pesky $25 billion hole in the budget?

It goes on and on like that. This L.A. Times "news analysis" captures the spirit right in the headline: "California voters exercise their power -- and that's the problem." That article also contains what might be the unofficial mottot of all but two editorial boards in the state:

In the Proposition 13 tax rebellion of 1978, Californians voted to require a two-thirds approval by the Legislature to raise taxes, a major obstacle to budget agreements.

Or, as LAT state-politics columnist George Skelton put it,

the biggest obstacle of all for the Legislature is the inane two-thirds majority vote requirement for passage of virtually any money bill -- spending or taxes. The voters signed off on that gridlock-inducing system.

Note the underlying axiom: "Budget agreements" and avoiding "gridlock" are the end-all, be-all of California politics, even if the budgets continue to expand and expand and expand every damned year without any noticeable increase in the quality or quantity of government services. And for those voters who don't grasp the sheer Gravity of it all? Contempt.

It's not that the initiative process hasn't produced all kinds of terrible policy in California; it has. But the sheer disproportionality of the blame-the-voter analysis reveals what close readers have long suspected is true: The Golden State's political class has long since given up agitating for government growth to be pared back even to the growth rate of inflation-plus-population. They treat massive public-sector pensions as a given, shudder with revulsion even at the mere scare-mention of a tiny percentage of state workers getting laid off, and pin the burden of proof not on the politicians who shovel up crappy new budget gimmicks, but rather on the voters who sensibly tell them to get stuffed. As the "Popular Comment" attached to that SacBee editorial put it,

What an obnoxious editorial. Nevertheless, it illustrates that the Bee is completely in favor of bigger government and higher taxes. Well, guess what. If you want us to buy your paper, then you had better have an editorial policy more in line with the thinking of Californians. Your parent company hasn't been doing so well economically and it will probably continue to lose money, especially with the demeaning attitude toward voters so clearly shown here.

Originally posted at Hit & Run

Reason Foundation's California Research and Commentary


Matt Welch is Editor in Chief, Reason


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