Monday, April 04, 2011

California's political battle for democracy - including Jerry Brown's dog Sutter

Is that too melodramatic a way to put it? I don't think so.

Dante Atkins gives a good summary of the state of play on the $26 billion California budget deficit (give a take a billion or two, depending on how you count) in The California GOP's assault on democracy Daily Kos 04/03/2011.

Jerry Brown understands how silly our media can be. So he's managed to make his dog a political figure, which our press corps can actually relate to. The dog, Sutter Brown, even has his own brand-new You Tube channel, which he inaugurated by pitching for his human companion Jerry's proposal to let the public vote on whether to use tax revenue to cover half the deficit or take it all in cuts. (In California, we don't talk about pets and their owners, but about animal and human companions.)

Dante Atkins puts this in the context of the Republicans' wrecker strategy nationwide:

There may have been a red wave sweeping the country in 2010, but as GOP gubernatorial nominee Meg Whitman's campaign manager Mike Murphy described it, California experienced a blue riptide. From governor all the way down to superintendent of public instruction, Democrats swept—usually in landslides, despite significant funding disadvantages at the top of the ticket, where billionaire Meg Whitman spent $150 million of her own money only to lose to Jerry Brown by 13 points. In the attorney general race, the only close statewide race, a younger, female, mixed-race district attorney of San Francisco named Kamala Harris defeated an older white male from Los Angeles County, Steve Cooley, who had easily won countywide election twice. Not only that, but Democrats held every single Congressional seat and even gained a seat in the State Assembly — earning as overwhelming a mandate as one could possibly imagine.

But that hasn't prevented Republicans from acting as if they own the state and ruling it as a small minority. While a recently approved measure reduced the threshold for passing a budget in California to a simple majority, it still requires a supermajority of two-thirds to raise any additional revenues, and Republicans have just enough seats in the Legislature to block any such proposal. Governor Brown already signed into law nearly $11 billion in deep budget cuts, but even that still left a hole of roughly $15 billion - a sum that Brown would like to see filled with revenue increases to complement the massive cuts he already signed into law.

But the GOP? They're having none of it. Instead of accepting the fact that Democrats in California have an overwhelming governing mandate, that Jerry Brown has already slashed the budget significantly, and that poll after poll has shown that voters favor a balanced budgetary approach that includes both cuts and tax increases, the Republican Party in California is holding democracy hostage in service to their anti-tax ideology. See, the revenue increases in question wouldn't just be implemented through a vote of the legislature; They would be put on the ballot for the voters of California to approve. But the GOP won't even let the people vote. Instead, the Republicans have, like hostage-takers, released a list of demands that Governor Brown must meet before they'll even allow the people their most basic of privileges under a democratic system of governance: to cast a ballot on whether to raise revenues or not. These demands are the usual Norquistian platform of gutting pensions, deregulation, and destruction of environmental protections. [my emphasis]
As the Sutter video indicates in a humorous way, Brown intends to make the Republicans own the results.

I continue to believe that Jerry is doing just what needs to be done to start getting California past the Republican scam: telling voters they can have lower taxes without any negative effects of their lives or services that they consider important; wrecking the functioning of the government and then pointing to the results as showing that gubment doesn't work and therefore we need less of it; and, relying on demagoguery, sleaze-slinging and fear-mongering and scarcely pretending to act in any kind of responsible way.

I don't want to see the $10 billion or so that Jerry wants to finance through a temporary tax extension be taken as cuts. But if it comes down to the choice between doing that and resorting to the kind of half-measures that has allowed California state government to stumble along for years and years with a constantly increasing proportion of debt to revenue that inflicts more and more long-term damage on the state's ability to function. States' debt situations are very different than that of the federal government, which is far away from having excessive debt.

Better for the state to take all or most of the $10 billion in cuts and move forward from there. Make the government after the cuts work well and start to rebuild from a more realistic basis. Jerry is being careful not to appear to be threatening the voters, although the Republicans and various pundits will accuse him of it anyway. But he's not making a threat, he's being more transparent about what he's doing than previous governors. And he's recognizing that California's system of initiative and referendum gives the state a quasi-plebiscitary form of government. And he's working within that to build a consensus among the public on the direction to go. He's making his preferences clear. And if the results of another $10 billion in cuts look more like what he's warning than like what the lying Republicans say, that will be important for everyone to see, as well.

In this prolonged economic slump, we need real Democratic economic policies from the Democratic President not Herbert Hoover ones, and now kowtowing to the Republican Wrecker Party. But President Obama has decided that the latter is what he's going to do. So progressive state Governors like Jerry Brown have to play the bad hand that the economy, the Republicans and Obama have dealt their states. So far, Jerry is on the most promising of an undesirable choice of paths in this situation.

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