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The California Republic Secedes

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…that’s the current liberal fantasy, and we can sweeten it even more by taking the rest of America’s “left coast” with us. Welcome to Ecotopia, baby—a dated, romantic, organic neverland. And like many works of fiction, not really do-able.

But consider that in many ways, California departed from the rest of the United States years ago. Into the future. Racially, California in 2013 looked like the U.S.A. will in 2060. Socially and culturally, this place has been the nation’s future since before any of us were born. And it’s always been California’s job to drag the rest of the country into that future, willing or not.

If you want to talk jobs and money… well, the California economy is sixth in the world—behind only the U.S., China, Japan, Germany, and the United Kingdom. And so I rename this column “The California Republic Succeeds.” Against all odds, baby. It’s no fantasy…

  • With more job-killing regulations than any other state, California is supposed to be shrinking like a wilting economic flower. Instead, it’s blooming, and booming.
  • Exclusively Democratic rule was supposed to chain the people with taxes and drive business away to Texas. It’s true: we’ve got more regulations than anywhere else. If there is a downside, it’s that job growth draws ever more people to an already-crowded state.
  • Undocumented immigrants are supposed to weigh California down and steal jobs from U.S. citizens. Instead, they play a vital role in the state’s economy—and in the budget of any family or business that buys produce.
  • Conventional Wisdom has always held that California is too big to govern. That was true until Jerry Brown began his third term as governor in 2010 by asking everyone to share some of the necessary economic pain. They did, and the state got its chronic budget deficits under control.

All this from the man who was mocked by conservatives as “Governor Moonbeam” during his first two terms in the 1970s. He’s currently serving his fourth (and probably final) term.

BTW, Brown’s technique is known as compromise, a valuable tradition missing from politics for too long.

Now consider that the current Congress and President are determined to take us back to the middle of the previous century. Slashing regulations! Bringing back coal! Outlawing even the phrase “climate change”!

And forgetting that during those idyllic 1950s, the top income tax bracket was around 90%.

Hiding within our ongoing governmental disaster is the opportunity to compare progressive California—which is winning despite all those horrid liberal constraints—to the stagnant America where Donald Trump and the Republicans would like to return us.

The result of that strategy is on wretched display right now in Kansas and Louisiana, where Governors Sam Brownback and Bobby Jindal cut taxes and claimed success even as revenue plunged, new businesses did not move in, and their states slid toward bankruptcy.

Supply-side economics didn’t work when it was attempted during the Reagan administration. It’s not going to work now, in a new millennium where the shopping mall fits into a little black screen in your pocket, and the delivery boy works for FedEx. Tomorrow has arrived, and you can’t address its concerns with yesterday’s solutions.

End the “war” on coal miners? You may as well bring back the horse and carriage. To employ a more current analogy: those who believe that you can return to a previous era must try taking away their teenager’s cell phone. Or putting down their own.

I worked as a reporter for the Portland (Maine) newspapers for three summers at the beginning of the Seventies. Computer-set “cold type” was just beginning to replace hot lead typesetting, and that evolution put lots of linotype operators out of work. They were like blacksmiths, a profession decimated as cars replaced horses.

Here’s a lesson about serving displaced blue-collar workers: unions saved those linotype operators—they forced the newspapers who were firing operators to retrain them instead. But now, many Republican-controlled states are killing union influence with so-called “right to work” laws. OK then, who will retrain the factory workers whose jobs are taken by automation, or the coal miners whose profession is made obsolete by renewable energy sources, by fracking, and by the lower cost of natural gas?

Who voluntarily? Not big business, and certainly not those populist politicians promising to save jobs that are never coming back.

You can easily trace California’s success to its penchant for riding the wave of the future—look no further than Silicon Valley. People move to California for the same reason that they move to the United States: it looks like a place where they can lead better lives. And it is.

But California’s blessings are also its curse. Its population continues to grow—and be underrepresented in Washington. The 22 smallest states collectively have 38 million residents and 44 senators, while California gets just two senators to represent its own 38 million residents. Wyoming’s two senators represent half as many people as live in San Francisco alone.

Underrepresented, over regulated, politically corrected, taxed and bundled off to godless public schools! Democrats with a supermajority in both houses of the Legislature, Democrats in every other elective office! You wanted a liberal laboratory in the real world? You got one.

But it needed a strong, even hand to work smoothly. That happened too. While asking every recipient of government money to share in funding cuts, Jerry Brown also resisted strong liberal pressure in the legislature to spend all the money available, as if it were a limitless spigot. The result was, and remains, a budget surplus.

Still, managing California’s income and expenditures remains a challenge; Governor Brown warns that next year’s budget will again include a deficit, if care is not taken. Now consider that about $100 billion of this year’s spending will be funded by Federally sponsored programs. That was the plan before Trumpism took over Washington. Now, progressive ol’ California has some major disagreements with the people currently in power.

For example, Trump recently rolled back fuel economy requirements that auto makers had already agreed to meet. I’ve read scenarios where Washington forces California to abandon regulations or lose portions of that Federal hundred billion.

The irony of course, is that California sends more money to Washington than it gets back. (True for many more blue states than red ones.) One calculation has the Golden State getting back just 78 cents for every tax dollar that it sends to Washington. And there’s no practical way to reverse that flow, because the money is collected as individual income taxes.

Trump’s Feds do seem poised to withhold California’s allowance if the kid doesn’t behave. House of Representatives Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy is a Californian himself, but comes shockingly close to cheerleading the possibility:

“Look, I will represent my district, and I will represent my state. But what [California’s Democratic leaders] are doing, they are playing with fire. Donald Trump is not going out in any way or form to attack California. They are the ones who are attacking California right now. They are the ones who are putting Californians at risk in every shape and form.”

McCarthy was speaking of the current so-called “Resistance” movement, which compares to the Tea Party intransigence that went on for the past eight years. But Trump, et. al., regard beneficial laws like the fuel economy standard as part and parcel of that resistance. He and his people will undo the standard for spite alone, the way Ronald Reagan had Jimmy Carter’s solar panels torn from the roof of the White House.

Jerry Brown has assumed leadership on environmental and other causes that are now toxic in Washington. Trump appoints people to head the very government functions that they’ve been aching to destroy. Brown, and plenty of others, will not accept that fate.

“We’ve got the scientists, we’ve got the lawyers and we’re ready to fight,” he said in a speech to the American Geophysical Union’s annual conference in San Francisco.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, California is the underdog in this conflict. Consider this list of California programs that are funded by Federal government money—and how the differences between what California wants and what Republicans want could change things dramatically.  For example, Covered California, the most successful version of Obamacare in the country, would uninsure some 1.4 million people if the ACA is repealed.

Medicaid is also on the chopping block, and killing that would mean 3.4 million people losing coverage. Hey, Sarah Palin, this year’s death panels are the House committee meetings where Republican majorities steal health care from the poor.

It’s a crime that Trump’s Washington cannot learn from California’s success story. My state has added two million jobs since 2011 (in the face of significant tax hikes, no less) and has a healthy budget surplus.

Jerry Brown celebrated his 79th birthday a few weeks ago, so it’s unlikely that he’ll run for president in 2020. But do remember that Brown’s California—a complex organism humming along a path of diversity, unwieldy but always solving problems with eyes pointed steadfastly forward—is the probable future of the entire country.

It is possible to learn from history.

 


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Written by

Steve Schlich writes fiction about software: “easy to use,” “does what you want”—lies like that—for the mortgage money. For his soul, he writes fiction and music. Hobbies include webmaster for www.RodSerling.com. In 2004, he created www.NakedWashington.com, a website chronicling the naughty public art in Washington, D.C. He lives happily with his wife and cats, north of San Francisco, where he’s been a technical writer of in-house software manuals since 1982.

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