Who Wants to Be Governor of the Failed State of California?

gavin_newsomOne Republican candidate who wants to be California’s next governor is Steve Poizner, whose economic prescriptions for healing the state’s fiscal maladies are like a quack doctor who “bleeds” his patient by attaching leeches. Poizner’s PR people came up with a catchy “10-10-10″ slogan. He throws up three arbitrary numbers to brand his economic “plan” that only someone who has either fallen off a turnip truck or has been in a coma for the past thirty years could believe has any chance of “success.”

Poizner claims he can cut taxes, reduce the state budget across the board by 10 percent (an idea that even Governor Ronald Reagan abandoned forty-two years ago), squeeze out $3.85 billion over two years by cracking down on government “waste” (as if that hasn’t been tried already), while at the same time putting away $10 billion for a “rainy-day fund.” How he’ll manage this feat is by taking another swat at failed “supply-side” economics. Poizner claims, as Arthur Laffer and Jude Wanniski et al. did in the early 1980s, that tax cuts for the richest, most undeserving people in California will create more revenue for the state’s coffers instead of exacerbating an already devastating structural budget deficit. It’s magic!

Poizner’s latest call for additional tax cuts came after he already proposed cuts in personal income and corporate taxes, and (of course) reducing the capital gains tax by 50 percent. Poizner’s brain-dead proposals are worse than “voodoo” economics. He’s telling California voters he can spin straw into gold. It’s nothing but a hodgepodge of failed fiscal gimmicks that were discredited when President Ronald Reagan, following the exact same recipe, tripled the national debt. I know we smoke a lot of weed out here in California but we’re not that stoned to buy a re-run of that hallucination.

Not to be outdone, the billionaire CEO candidate Meg Whitman, through her spokesman Tucker Bounds — (yes, the same guy who claimed Sarah Palin had “national security” experience because she was “commander-in-chief” of the Alaska National Guard) — proposes permanently slashing at least $15 billion from the state budget, and laying off 40,000 public employees — in addition to massive tax cuts for her rich friends.

The “moderate” Republican in the race is the perennial candidate Tom Campbell, a politician — like Mitt Romney — who sends voters reaching for their remotes every time his face appears on television. Campbell promises to cut state spending by $12.65 billion (he wants to come across slightly less extreme than Whitman and Poizner). But the hallmark of his “centrist” economic plan is for state workers, who have already suffered a 14 percent pay cut from Schwarzenegger’s “furloughs,” to give back to the state another part of their hard-earned salaries.

The Poizner-Whitman-Campbell triumvirate’s plans are nothing more than re-branded “trickle-down” economics they wish to heartlessly push through even though California’s unemployment rate is over 12.2 percent. Poizner, Whitman, and Campbell have one thing in common: Each of them see no value whatsoever in California’s public institutions. They believe that by impoverishing public employees and strangling the public sector they will somehow make California a more attractive place for businesses to invest. Poizner says he is willing “to do whatever it takes” in order to goad capitalists to “come here and start companies.” Good luck.

If the Republican “vision” for California becomes a reality, prospective business investors might face slightly lower state taxes, but they will be greeted by dilapidated roads and schools, a clogged court system, and overworked cops and firefighters. Their employees will have to wade through an army of disabled homeless people and recidivist prisoners. And none of their low-wage workers could ever dream of someday owning a home in California’s still inflated housing market

These Republicans might as well be calling for removing the railroad crossing signals throughout the state because the increase in traffic accidents involving trains and cars will generate new business opportunities for ambulance companies and mortuaries.

Right now, despite the claims of columnists like The Sacramento Bee’s crusty, cranky, union-hating paleoconservative Dan Walters, the Republicans have de facto control over the state’s budget and finances (given the two-thirds rule in the dysfunctional Legislature). The state would be better off if it chucked its current Constitution altogether and then turned to a bright group of students from a public middle school to write a new one.

Is it any wonder why the Legislature has a 13 percent approval rating and Schwarzenegger’s stands at about 27 percent? This horrific state of affairs raises the obvious question: How can a modern state with 38 million people and a GDP the size of France’s be controlled by such a tiny legislative minority of hyper-ideological and incompetent right-wingers? The nation’s most populated state is facing a debilitating legitimacy crisis with no end in sight.

And what is Attorney General Jerry Brown’s stand on higher education and the other problems confronting the state? Build more prisons? Rather than give voters a clear blueprint for how he would address the multiple crises in California, Brown mostly remains moot. The biggest news story of late to come from Brown’s “non-campaign” campaign is that he lined up the endorsement of one of the state’s largest unions tied to our colossal prison system. The California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA) recently gave Brown’s “exploratory committee” $40,900.

Brown also recently gave Schwarzenegger a boost by endorsing his drearily repetitive and authoritarian tactic of threatening to veto everything unless he gets his way on one or more of his pet projects. Said Brown: “Compromise in the rough-and-tumble legislative process is not achieved by doilies and tea” and “the governor’s decision whether to veto legislation is an intrinsic part of the legislative process.” Brown’s point might be true but do we really want to continue with this kind of partisan brinkmanship? Why not have a governor who works with the Legislature instead of against it? Schwarzenegger’s job approval rating is so low does Brown really think it’s wise to continue down that same tired old road? What’s Brown doing anyway? Waiting for his coronation?

Among the gubernatorial candidates, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom seems to be the only one who is making any kind of effort to inspire young people and who has any faith in the intrinsic value of California’s public institutions. He claims to want to find a way to fully fund the CSU, UC, and community college systems. Whether he can succeed is another question — but at least he sees higher education for what it is: a public investment vital to California’s future. Newsom recently submitted a “guest column” for The State Hornet, the student newspaper for CSU, Sacramento. In it he writes: “I stand in support of our fellow Californians adversely affected by cuts to higher education.” Newsome continues:

“Pulling over a billion dollars out of colleges and universities across California, has real implications, and we’re now just starting to see the unrest that accompanies such drastic cuts. I believe in fully funding the University of California, California State University and community colleges in this state. It will be my top priority upon taking office to roll back these fee increases. Our state’s greatest asset is the vast concentration of human potential that’s defined us for generations. . . . Let’s stop implementing enrollment caps and raising fees. . . . We must begin educating our workforce now. We cannot wait until the economy is rosy again; by then it’ll be too late. . . . Our future economic prosperity depends on it.”

Some of my colleagues here in the state capital who know far more about California’s Byzantine politics than I do tell me that Newsom is already “branded” as the “gay marriage” aficionado, and therefore unelectable. But I counter by saying that just because a bunch of homophobic Mormons from Utah spent millions of dollars to run ads successfully passing Proposition 8 and featured Newsom in some of their ads doesn’t mean that he’d be a bad governor. At least Newsom is putting in the hard work of appearing at “town halls” across the state and writing articles for student newspapers.

The simmering anger and resentment that Schwarzenegger and the Republicans (along with the hapless Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and Assembly Speaker Karen Bass) have unleashed throughout the state by their cold-hearted, Dickensian assault on California’s public sector is beginning to create a backlash. Former President Bill Clinton seems to recognize this fact; that’s one of the reasons why he endorsed Newsom and came to California to campaign for him. Everyone agrees that California is ungovernable. So why not take a chance on someone like Newsom who might shake things up? Chances are he’ll fail like all the rest, and, besides, as the Republicans showed us in 2003, if voters decide they don’t like Governor Newsom they can always recall him and install a movie star. How about Sean Penn?

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If the miserable status quo continues and the Republicans succeed in their long-term project of turning California into a failed state the time might not be far off when the labor unions of this state are going to have no choice but to call for some kind of General Strike. Organized labor must at some point show these free-market supply-siders that their Republican servants in Sacramento will not be allowed to destroy this state without a fight.

Originally published by the Huffington Post. Reprinted with permission from the author

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).

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