By Gary Delsohn
Special to Calbuzz
Some very smart people, many of them friends of mine, have created a cottage industry arguing that California is in desperate need of political reform.
We’ve seen books, opinion page essays, incessant blogging and groups like California Forward offer insightful analyses about the laundry list of structural fixes needed to stop the constant bickering and budget crises that paralyze the Capitol year-in, year-out.
We even have a European billionaire talking about reform who seems to have captivated the media and other good government folks, not for anything he’s done or proposed, but because he’s so rich he likes to fly around the world in his jet and live in posh hotel suites instead of residing in any one place.
Of course, we need a tax code that reflects our 21st Century economy, one that is more broadly based and is not held hostage to the vagaries of Wall Street.
Sure, we need fair, competitive elections and honestly drawn legislative districts. We need to ditch term limits, or at the very least refine them, so we can again have a legislature with wise old hands.
Everyone knows the state is not well served when self-serving lobbyists and consultants are better informed and more experienced than our legislators.
It would be nice if we could count on legislators to spend no more than the state takes in, but since we cannot, we also need a spending cap like the one already slated for the 2012 ballot.
These will all help future governors and legislators do their jobs more effectively. Maybe we even need some of the other reforms floating around like pay-as-you-go and two-year budgeting.
But none of these will fix our state.
What California needs more than anything else are elected officials with — to use a polite term — guts and vision.
How about Democrats willing to stand up to the public employee labor unions? Democrats who will tell their labor donors without equivocation that California can no longer afford overly generous pensions and other lifetime benefits.
We need those same Democrats to tell the unions, “Sure you hate privatizing even the most obscure state service, but that’s too bad. California is broke. We need to be more efficient and competitive. If you don’t like it, vote me out of office. This is about saving our state, not your union.”
We need Republicans with the courage to act as adults about the state’s revenue crisis and not be intimidated by what right-wing radio shows or the Flash Report will say if they do the right thing. Because every Republican in the Legislature who is intellectually honest knows you cannot solve a $25 billion budget shortfall by cuts alone. Unless, of course, you want to decimate state government.
We need the same Republicans to wake up and realize California’s environment is arguably its most precious asset, so stop scheming to undermine or delay every piece of legislation that seeks to protect and enhance it.
No constitutional convention, initiative or reform love-in will give us any of those kinds of politicians. We need our elected officials to rise to the occasion, show some guts and vision and do what’s best for the state, not what’s best for their political parties or resumes.
The media have an important role to play here, too. It requires more than just parroting what the zealots say under the guise of fair reporting.
When Yvonne Walker, head of SEIU’s Local 100 tells a Sacramento TV reporter after Gov. Brown’s state of the state speech that Gov. Schwarzenegger declared war on state workers because he needed an enemy, which she did, it would be nice if the reporter knew enough or cared enough to push back.
All that was needed was a simple, “But the state’s broke. Social services and programs for the needy are being axed. Taxpayers are paying more. If California is busted, don’t state workers have to expect some cuts, too?”
It’s not difficult to see the outline of a deal that can be struck between Gov. Brown’s quite reasonable proposed budget solution of cuts and taxes and Republicans’ unreasonable no-tax obsession.
Approve the cuts and tax extensions that Brown has proposed, craft lasting pension reform and some honest regulatory relief for business that gets the state’s economy out of the deep freeze. Then have Democrats and Republicans stand together to explain it to voters.
Compared to what we’re watching as people sacrifice their lives to fix broken governments in the rest of the world, this is small potatoes.
And I’m sorry, the need for civil discourse notwithstanding, we should not even be talking about the goofy notion of countering Brown’s proposed tax package with an alternative proposal to cut taxes by the same amount.
I spent seven years at the Capitol — four as a reporter for the Sacramento Bee and three as Gov. Schwarzenegger’s chief speechwriter — and that idea is as lame as it gets.
Brown was right when he said, “Further tax cuts take us further down the road. You got to get real here. Don’t say, ‘I’m going to solve this problem by creating a whole bunch of newer problems.’” The tax cut idea is childish and counter-productive.
My fondest hope for California is that we continue the reform momentum we have seen the past few years. But it will never take the place of leaders with backbone who are willing to make the tough, unpopular decisions our current state of affairs require.
Those people need to step up and be heard right now.
Gary Delsohn, a private media consultant, is a former reporter for the Sacramento Bee who served as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s chief speech writer from 2006 to 2009. He is currently working with Schwarzenegger on a variety of writing projects.