The national government arguably no longer represents the best interests of California.
By Andy Cohen
With the government shutdown entering its third week and the country on the brink of causing a worldwide economic calamity by defaulting on its financial obligations, the United States sits mired in a major political and economic crisis. It is a self inflicted crisis caused by a bunch of radical know-nothings who have deliberately set out to undermine our government and economy in a game of political brinksmanship. The entire nation is being held hostage so that 30 million Americans can be denied healthcare; because an ignorant and racist faction of the Republican Party has wrested control of the U.S. House of Representatives because they abhor the very idea of a black man occupying the White House.
I’m tired of it. We deserve better. And by “we” I mean Californians.
Consider: The United States Congress no longer represents who we are as a state, as an economy, and as a worldwide economic force. Our economic future is being manipulated by extreme ideologues in Texas, Iowa, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina……states who mostly have very little in common with California economically, politically, or ideologically; states that refuse to acknowledge modern demographic realities and yearn for the days of the Old South, many of whom desperately waiting for the South to “rise again.”
Before we continue, let me first say that I am not advocating that California secedes from the Union…..yet. I merely present it as an alternative as we see political incivility and intransigence from a faction of the country that is not at all reflective of our values; a faction that currently controls the political narrative and landscape to the detriment of us all.
I am saying that California is poised to be able to do something that perhaps no other state in the Union could do on its own, not even Texas. Follow me on this.
California has a 2013 estimated population of 38,441,387 (due to the government shutdown, the census.gov site is down, so possibly more accurate American Community Survey information from the government is not currently available). That would make us the 32nd most populous nation in the world, just ahead of Poland, and behind Argentina. California has approximately four million more people than does Canada. We are by far the most populous state in the U.S., with approximately 12% of the nation’s overall population.
According to the Center for the Continuing Study of the California Economy, California has regained its position as the world’s 8th largest economy. With a GDP of $2.003 trillion, California’s 2012 economic numbers put it in a virtual tie with Russia and Italy for the 8th-10th largest economies in the world, and the center estimates that the state will surpass both countries in 2013 (World Bank numbers have California $10 billion behind Italy, $11 billion behind Russia in 2012).
California accounts for 13% of the United States’ $15.68 trillion GDP by itself. We have one of the most diverse economies in the world, massive in agriculture, technology, entertainment, tourism, finance, even oil and gas production. Name an industry and you’re likely to find a significant presence in the state.
Politically, California is nothing like the rest of the country in aggregate. In 2010, after seven years with a Republican governor, Californians elected Democrats to every statewide office. Democrats also took overwhelming control of the State Assembly and the State Senate, falling just a small handful of seats short of achieving the supermajorities required to overcome the two-thirds necessary to pass budget related items without Republican support.
Perhaps more significant, however, is the pragmatic way Californians decided how their representatives to the state and federal governments should be determined. In 2008, state voters approved Prop 11, taking the redistricting process for both houses of the State Legislature out of the hands of the legislators themselves, placing the responsibility with an independent, non-partisan redistricting commission that was charged with drawing Assembly and Senate districts strictly by geography and population, without regard to politics, yet making allowances for “communities of interest.”
In 2010, voters passed Prop 14, which called for the elimination of the partisan primary election system and created a “top two” primary system, where the top two vote earners in any primary election advance to the general election, regardless of party affiliation, the results of which would produce more moderate elected officials more reflective of the overall electorate. Extreme partisan politics, where candidates deem it necessary to appeal to the most extreme elements of their party base in order to get elected were effectively eliminated in the state. Voters also approved Prop 20, extending the redistricting commission’s responsibilities to redrawing the state’s U.S. Congressional Districts, unlike the overwhelming majority of other states where the drawing of Congressional districts remains in partisan legislative hands.
The results: With districts that fairly and accurately reflected the state’s geographic and demographic makeup, in 2012 voters sent supermajorities of Democrats to both the State Assembly and State Senate, while electing only 13 Republicans out of 55 Congressional seats. No longer were Republicans (or Democrats, for that matter) unfairly gerrymandered into safe districts.
Also bucking the national trend, California voters passed an increase in state income taxes on the wealthiest residents and temporarily increased the state sales tax across the board; they rejected an anti-union initiative that would have stifled employee union funding and their influence in statewide elections, while at the same time increasing the influence of private business interests in state elections; they eliminated a tax loophole that favored out-of-state businesses, leveling the playing field for California based companies; they rejected a measure that would have turned the state’s budgeting process on its head, and ironically would have caused it to look more like Texas’ system of governance; and rejected out of hand a blatant attempt by partisan politicos to undermine the state’s redistricting reforms that had already been put in place.
In Democratic hands, combined with a Democratic governor and with the budget shackles largely removed thanks to legislative supermajorities, the Legislature has managed to shrink a 2010 budget deficit of $25 billion to a mere $1.9 billion in 2013, and the Legislative Analyst’s Office has projected surpluses of $1 billion in Fiscal Year 2014-15 to possibly $9 billion in 2017-18, the last year forecasted.
California is not at all reflective of what is happening throughout the rest of the country, where extreme partisan legislatures and statehouses are eagerly implementing voter suppression laws, and where abortion rights are being eliminated—as opposed to California where voter registration has been made easier and abortion rights have been expanded.
We don’t fit. We are a virtual outlier in the national political landscape. We are an economic and cultural powerhouse by ourselves, and yet we are subject to the whims of the extreme ideologues in Washington, D.C., sent there literally to undermine our national government and prevent it from functioning. California, on the other hand, has proven that responsible governance is possible when placed in responsible hands.
Given the kamikaze nature of one faction of our national government and their efforts to undermine our economy and entire system of governance through hostage taking and ransom demands, one wonders whether California would be better off if it were no longer tethered to—and hampered by—the destructive forces taking charge in the nation’s capitol. Californians have dismissed the crackpots in favor of serious leaders looking to do serious work, sent to Sacramento with the duty to make extremely difficult decisions that could affect our future for years to come. The same cannot be said for the rest of the country.
What is happening on the national stage is a colossal embarrassment, and sends a horrific message to the rest of the world. The Nation of California deserves better. We can survive–even thrive–on our own, just as surely as the rest of the country can survive without us. The question is, if things don’t change dramatically in Washington–if the bitter partisanship and political brinksmanship represents the “new normal”–at what point does that become a viable, preferable option?