California: Where Elections Don’t Matter

Last November, Californians did not elect Republican Meg “Money Bags” Whitman to be their governor. We elected a Democratic governor and Democratic majorities in the State Assembly and the Senate. Yet five members of the Republican minority once again are in the driver’s seat and they’re determined to run the state right over the cliff. They’ve even hired Schwarzenegger’s old budget director, Michael Genest, as a “consultant” while they block any attempt to address California’s fiscal crisis and — Wisconsin GOP-style — they’re even preventing Californians from voting on the matter.

The Republican minority, calling themselves the “GOP 5,” are marching in lockstep with Wisconsin’s governor Scott Walker: They’re anti-democratic, authoritarian, and immature. They seem to relish imposing on the majority of Californians whatever their corporate paymasters want. They don’t “negotiate,” they behave like children. They demand everything and concede nothing. They use extortion, obstruction, and threats of tearing apart the social fabric in order to attain their maximum goals. They say they’ll acquiesce in allowing the Plebeians to vote on measures to shore up the state’s fiscal crisis (even after Governor Jerry Brown and the Democrats already put forth $12.5 billion in budget cuts), but only after they lay waste to any state government agency, program, or institution that does not expressly serve the interests of corporations (many of them out of state).

It all has a very 19th Century ring to it.

The press coverage of California’s budget battle has been abysmal. The news media insist on facilitating the Republican narrative about what’s going on in Sacramento without ever challenging it or even bothering to explain it.

There is a simple question that is lost inside the dominant (Republican-friendly) narrative:

Why is it legitimate for a minority of legislators to hold the state budget hostage while it attempts to extort its maximum long-term political goals from the majority?

The simple answer to that question is that it is not legitimate.

Now for the hypothetical question as it applies to California:

What if things were reversed and the state had a Republican governor and Republican majorities in the Assembly and Senate and a minority of legislators calling themselves the “Democrat 5″ were holding the budget hostage while demanding increases in spending on schools, state parks, and better pensions for public employees?

What would be the narrative then?

No wonder the Republicans always over-reach. The game is rigged in their direction (even in California — a state that didn’t give George W. Bush one electoral vote).

The “GOP 5′s” demands, as they currently stand, (and have frozen California in a state of fiscal distress) are nothing short of radical changes in state pension plans (that are the product of collective bargaining) and the gutting of business and environmental regulations that don’t serve corporations, which have nothing to do whatsoever with next year’s state budget or trying to get California out of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

The Five GOP Patriarchs (they’re all white and male of course), won’t even allow Californians to vote on a measure extending the emergency taxes that were already passed. It is on the same level of the authoritarian tactics of Scott Walker and the Wisconsin Republicans, but it’s happening in California, a state far more crucial to any national economic recovery.

joseph palermoCalifornia’s fiscal crisis, like that of all the other state governments, is a product of the Great Wall Street Toxic Waste Dump of 2008. After Wall Street’s recklessness set off the financial hydrogen bomb, home values plummeted, life savings and retirements were erased, and jobs vanished, California’s revenues drop by about $20 billion a year because lower valued homes shrink property taxes and unemployed people cannot pay income taxes. The state has been in a Groundhog Day of Reckoning ever since. Yet, as in Wisconsin, we’re told that the crisis is somehow teachers and nurses and social workers and other public employees’ fault.

Wiping out large swathes of the middle class, deflating the value of working people’s homes, shredding their retirement plans, and extorting trillions in bailouts and loan guarantees from taxpayers wasn’t enough. Now the captains of finance, along with their GOP servants, want to kill off the public sector so they can feast on the corpse.

Joseph Palermo

Joseph A Palermo

Published by the LA Progressive on March 17, 2011
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About Joseph Palermo

Joseph Palermo is Professor of History, California State University, Sacramento. Professor Palermo's most recent book is The Eighties (Pearson 2012). He has also written two other books: In His Own Right: The Political Odyssey of Senator Robert F. Kennedy (Columbia, 2001); and Robert F. Kennedy and the Death of American Idealism (Pearson, 2008). Before earning a Master's degree and Doctorate in History from Cornell University, Professor Palermo completed Bachelor's degrees in Sociology and Anthropology from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a Master's degree in History from San Jose State University. His expertise includes the 1980s; political history; presidential politics and war powers; social movements of the 20th century; the 1960s; and the history of American foreign policy. Professor Palermo has also written articles for anthologies on the life of Father Daniel Berrigan, S.J. in The Human Tradition in America Since 1945 (Scholarly Resources Press, 2003); and on the Watergate scandal in Watergate and the Resignation of Richard Nixon (CQ Press, 2004).