In a move akin to insurance firms taking on the task of reforming health care, the Legislature this week tackled the intractable issue of how to repair California’s hideously dysfunctional government, a story simply too absurd to be framed by the dozey forms of conventional Capitol reporting.
Amid a torrent of tiresome dispatches detailing the doings of the Orwellian-titled Select Committees on Improving State Government, Dan Walters was, as usual, ahead of the pack. Disdaining all the earnest talk, testimony and goo-goo nostrums about term limits, redistricting and campaign finance reform, the Big Fella offered a step-back, big-picture piece that was one-part David McCullough historic sweep and one-part Samuel Beckett existential hopelessness:
The much-vaunted checks and balances of the American system, designed by the nation’s founders who had revolted against a king and feared centralized power, create stasis in a society with as many rival factions as California has.
What may have worked in post-colonial, mono-cultural America doesn’t work very well in a postindustrial, multicultural state such as California, especially since we’ve added even more hurdles to decision-making, such as ballot measures and two-thirds votes.
With the relentlessness of daily deadlines smothering any pencil press effort to shed fresh light on a subject of such stultifying complexity and magnitude, it was left to Mark Paul, our favorite pundit at the New America Foundation, to offer a different take on the deadly reform issue.
Paul has a talent for presenting California Big Think stuff in an easily accessible and always readable way; over at Capitol Weekly, he offered some clear and creative insights on the subject of California’s collapse – a crisp 748-word analysis, framed by twin conceits of political schizophrenia as diagnosed by an alien come to earth.
On one hand, he would see a system of single-member legislative districts elected by plurality, a system well known to restrict representation to the two major parties, exaggerate the majority party’s strength, empower the ideological bases in each party, and render the votes of millions of Californians essentially moot in most legislative elections. The system’s driving principle? Create a majority and let it rule.
On the other hand, he would see, superimposed upon the first system, a second political system: a constitutional web of rules requiring supermajority legislative agreement about the very subjects, spending and taxes, over which the the parties and the electorate are most polarized. The driving principle of this second system? Do nothing important without broad consensus. The collision of these two contradictory governing principles– one majoritarian, one consensus– has produced gridlock, rising debt, and deep public disgust.
And then on the third hand…he would see that, in response to gridlock, voters have repeatedly used the initiative process, another majoritarian institution, to override the consensus principle, which was itself put in place to check the majority-rule principle. This political schizophrenia has led to all the expected symptoms in California, including apathy, delusions, disordered thinking, and the kind of citizen anger that marked the May special election. California doesn’t work because it can’t work.
Good stuff, bro.
But where was he when we needed him: Treasurer Bill Lockyer emerged as the unquestioned star of the legislature’s big reform hearing, offering a welcome dose of candor, mixed with a strong shot of No Exit despair, that no doubt skyrocketed his Google rating in a single afternoon.
While Walters was content to skim the cream of Lockyer’s money quotes (“We’re part of a system that was designed not to work…You are the captive of this environment, and I don’t see any way out” – Good God, man, step back from the ledge!) our old pal Greg Lucas showed he hasn’t lost his knack for public service journalism by offering fans of California’s Capitol an admiring and extended look at Lockyer’s greatest hits.
It ‘s worth noting that veteran solon watcher Lucas headlined his post “Why isn’t this man California’s next governor,” a speculative notion that Calbuzz raised and floated several months ago, to the sound of resounding silence. With a proven ability to win statewide elections, and a nice comfy wad of campaign cash in the bank, Lockyer seemed well positioned to jump into the Democratic field back when it was still wide-open; his failure to do so led us to conclude he was simply intimidated by back-in-the-day memories of tangling with Jerry Brown.
We’re counting the days: Lisa Vorderbrueggen, last spotted trying to substitute Chinese takeout for pizza as Election Night dinner fare, reports over at Political Blotter that Hurricane Carly Fiorina is promising an “important announcement” in, um, Pleasanton on Nov. 6.
Be still our beating hearts – only 14 days to go! – what’s iCarly’s big secret?
Our bet is that she’s chosen Pleasanton to be the surprise recipient of a big free shipment of HP office equipment originally slated for Tehran.
Short takes: With the Calbuzz National Affairs Desk decimated by budget cuts, we’re delighted to have Lou Cannon’s take on the closely watched upcoming elections for governor in New Jersey and Virginia…
Three pounds of crap in a two pound bag award to Politico’s Kenneth P Vogel for trying to sustain an analysis comparing Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Balloon Boy dad Richard Heene…
The Calbuzz Major League Baseball, Teeball and Ultimate Frisbee Desk was, of course, heart-broken to see the Dodgers’ world-class chokers cough it up to the Phillies in the National League Championship Series, but was somewhat assuaged by Bill Plashke’s superb commentary in the By God LA Times about Manny Ramirez taking an early shower during his team’s total collapse in the 9th inning of Game 4. Wait ’til next year.