Why California Is Dying Is A Question of Process, Not Personality

A must-read primer on the roots of California's fiscal crisis. While it may feel good to pile on the failure of Arnold as governor and the obstructionism of the Republican minority in the state legislature, the only way we're going to be able to truly tackle what ails the state is by understanding how broken the system by which California runs (or doesn't) is and how it came to be that way. - Todd

Just to update everyone on the meltdown out here in California - last night the Republicans in the State Senate engineered a putsch, deposing their leader in the dead of night because he was insufficiently unconcerned about the welfare of the state.

Around 11 p.m., a group of GOP senators, unhappy with the higher taxes that Senate leader Dave Cogdill of Modesto agreed to as part of a deal with the governor and Democrats, voted to replace him in a private caucus meeting in Cogdill's office. Shortly before midnight, it was still unclear who would replace him.

Cogdill's ouster could be a major setback to budget negotiations. Cogdill was a lead negotiator on the budget package and had committed to voting for it. If he were removed from his leadership post, a new Senate minority leader would likely try to renegotiate the deal, which lawmakers spent three months forging.

Zed Hollingsworth (I'm calling him Zed because, like the recently excavated mammoth at the La Brea Tar Pits of the same name, he's a prehistoric elephant) is indeed trying to reopen budget talks and take taxes off the table, and if there's not a breakthrough in a couple days, he may succeed.  Darrell Steinberg, the Democratic leader, is vowing to hold out, but he doesn't have much left to offer the holdouts, as they remain 1 vote short in the Senate.

Meanwhile, 20,000 state employees are getting pink slips, and continued delay will make the state ineligible for federal transportation dollars because they can't provide matching funds, costing the state billions.  The Republican obstructionists have cost the state untold amounts in shutdown/start-up costs, higher rates of borrowing due to the uncertainty, etc.

Given all this, I have to wholeheartedly agree with Robert Cruickshank's take on how this all does nothing but highlight the need for fundamental reform and a return to democracy in California.  He did an admirable job going over the history and the menu of options, but I want to make the more emotional argument for a return to majority rule.  Scott Lemieux at Lawyers, Guns and Money did the best and most concise job of explaining why, despite the essential truth of the Republican Zombie Death Cult, it's the process-based enabling that is the original sin.

Although Krugman is of course right to blame a "fanatical, irrational minority" for the current crisis in California, it can't be emphasized enough that what really matters is the incredibly stupid institutional rules that empower this minority: namely, the idiotic super-majority for tax increases and an initiative system that both created that supermajority requirement and provides incentives to vote for every tax cut while mandating certain kinds of spending because the issues are isolated. Fortunately, the federal level (while it has too many veto points) is not quite at this level yet, and at least the stupid filibuster rule doesn't apply to budgets.

It's very easy to get people excited and motivated about a PERSON.  Not so much about a process.  And yet, as we all know, without the process, the villains in this melodrama would be sidelined, a fact which actually serves both parties.

We on the left often obsess over whether the electorate can figure out who to blame in these crises.  This 2/3 requirement for budgets and tax increases in California is a powerful enabler for that confusion.  Because the elected representatives of the majority party are not allowed to impose their will on how the state is to be run, they cannot be held to account.  Because the elected representatives of the minority party are in the minority party, they cannot be held to account.  Therefore we have a political cycle that mirrors the economic cycle resulting from the inevitable bad policies.  The powerful stay powerful, the voiceless stay voiceless, people lose faith in the process, leading to more entrenched power and more voiceless, and so on.

Greg Lucas at California's Capitol makes the moral case for a majority-vote budget along these lines, that it is the only way for true accountability in the system.

If the huckstering of the President's Day Weekend demonstrated anything at all, it's that the majority party should be able to pass the budget it considers best for California.

If its awful the governor, should he or she be of a different political party, can slice-and-dice it through the miracle of the veto process.

Should the governor be of the same political party and warmly endorse the spending plan well he or she can be thrown out by voters.

And, if the non-partisan commission created by Proposition 11 last November to draw new legislative boundaries does its job it will be possible to throw out members of the party that passed the budget as well.

I don't agree about the panacea of redistricting - the available data shows virtually no link between gerrymandering and political polarization - but on balance Lucas is right.  It's not a marketplace of ideas unless citizens can buy one idea or the other and make their decision based on the evidence.  Democracies work when ideas are allowed to stand strong or wither on the strength of results.  We do not have that here in California.  This is also true on the national level.  Senate leaders string their constituents along with the need for more Democrats to overcome a self-imposed hurdle of the filibuster.  

The extreme version of this madness is here in the Golden State.  The 2/3 rule is the prime mover for all the dysfunction we see.  It was actually put into place in the 1930s to stop the New Deal from reaching these shores.  It was modified in the 1960s and in 1978, Prop. 13 added a 2/3 barrier for tax increases to the budget.  We've been feeling the effects ever since, as taxes are flattened and ratcheted down and the state is governed for the sake of people in gated commnunities and not the least of society.  It creates an artificial conservative veto over policy.  The expressed goal was to save homeowners money - the actual goal was to destroy government.  California is the house that Grover Norquist built, and the results are predictable.

As to my point that this serves both parties?  Greg Lucas:

Just to sweeten the majority-vote budget pot a little, there's a fairly hefty number of folks who work both in and around the Capitol who assert that whichever team wins the power to run roughshod over the minority party will be so scared of exclusive blame for any badness in the budget being exclusively their fault that they won't do anything real drastic.

This is what they are scared of CURRENTLY.  There are lots of checks and balances in political systems.  There is no need for an artificial veto.  Democrats will remain timid to stick their necks out (they're politicians), but at least they would have no excuses.  And who knows, maybe they would realize they have a little bit of power and they would use it!

Arnold Schwarzenegger is irrelevant and a failure. State Democrats are spineless jellyfish.  The death-cult Republican Party is a collection of flat-earthers bent on destruction.  All well and good.  Yet all of these discrete groups are enabled by a political system that does violent disservice to the people of the state and the concept of democracy.  We must have a return to majority rule as soon as possible.  For the sake of accountability.

CA-04: Brown Leads GOP Opponents In General Election Matchups

Bumped. Some great news for Charlie Brown up in CA-04. We'll know who his challenger is tomorrow. In the meantime, throw him some love over at Act Blue - Todd

(cross-posted at Calitics)

Absolutely huge news from out of CA-04.  On the eve of the primary, with Tom McClintock and Doug Ose locked in a death struggle of a primary, spending over $4 million dollars because they think the nomination is a prelude to an easy walk to a victory in November and a seat in Congress, Charlie Brown's campaign has released an internal poll showing him leading both Republicans.

The survey of 400 likely General Election voters was conducted by Pete Brodnitz of the Benenson Strategy Group on May 14th and 15th.  The margin of error was +/- 4.9%.

Despite a $4 million advertising blitz by the GOP frontrunners, the poll shows Brown leading Ose 38% to 34%, and leading McClintock 42% to 40%.

The survey also showed a generic ballot between the Democratic and Republican candidates for Congress tied at 43%, with self identification of voters moving sharply away from the often cited voter registration statistics of the district.

"The numbers confirm that district four voters want real local leadership, and they want change," Brown said.  "No matter which career politician wins the GOP Primary on Tuesday night, this race will continue to offer a clear contrast between a partisan approach that has failed America , and a country first approach that leads by example to solve problems."

It's an internal poll, and internal polls are often favorable to those who release them.  But Brodnitz is a solid pollster and there's no reason to believe that Brown hasn't benefited by staying out of the primary scrap, while cementing his excellent reputation among voters in the 4th District.  

But more than that, the internals of the poll show that voters in this so-called "red" district are desperate for change and believe in Charlie's ability to help bring it about.  On the flip:

There's more...

The Junkie's Guide To The California Democratic Primary

From the diaries, dday has an excellent rundown of the quirks of the California delegate allocation system and his own projections of what to expect out of California tomorrow night based on how each candidate does in certain congressional districts. - Todd

We hear a lot about the back and forth of the Democratic primary in California.  We hear about various campaign rallies, some of it useful and interesting.  Heck, I've written about them myself.  What I see less about is the actual nuts and bolts of the California election, and what its quirks will mean for the delegate counts for Obama or Clinton.  The AP came close the other day.

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Democratic Road To The White House May Get Easier

The other states that experiment with proportional representation with their electoral votes, Maine and Nebraska, don't have a lot of EVs and their Congressional districts are ideologically similar.  But if North Carolina goes ahead and delivers 2 EVs to the winner of the Presidential race and then 1 EV to the winner of each of its 13 Congressional districts, then that changes things in a big way.  

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CA-42: The Lay of the Land

It's great that the netroots candidacy of Ron Shepston for Congress is getting so much attention.  His race against the unfathomably corruptGary Miller represents a progressive hope and a decided alternative, and people are so excited that, at press time, he's raised over $5,300 dollars through ActBlue in just a couple days.

Superlative.  Outstanding.  Fantastic.

Now let's really look at what he's getting into.  The campaign has asked me to contribute a guest column to the rollout providing the lay of the land.  We'll start with the bad news and move slowly into the good.

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CA Dem Party: Please Give Back the Chevron Donation

I am fairly surprised that more has not been made in the blogosphere of the unwelcome news that Chevron is doing everything it can to buy off the California Democratic Party and some of its top legislators.  Outside of this small item in The Oil Drum, pretty much nobody has said a word about the fact that the CDP accepted a $50,000 check from a company that is attempting to artificially depress capacity and manipulate the energy market in a way that is shockingly similar to how Enron made themselves a fortune during the 2000-2001 energy crisis.  You can read the details here.

As a delegate to this party, I feel personally tainted by this donation.  I feel like there is a concerted effort to buy my silence.  It will not work, and I want to outline why I am respectfully asking this party, of which I am a member and to which I pay dues, to return the money.

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Why Primarying Lieberman REMAINS The Right Call

People seem to forget that the goals in primarying Joe Lieberman were met, even though Ned Lamont is not currently the junior Senator from the state of Connecticut.  Lieberman is no longer able to speak for the Democratic Party, which was the biggest problem.  He stands outside it now as an independent, and therefore all the trouble he caused with going on Fox News and parroting right-wing talking points and undermining the party leadership are made moot.  A PERFECT case in point is his endorsement of Susan Collins today in the 2008 Maine Senate race.  Before his conversion to the Connecticut for Lieberman Party, a Democrat supporting a Republican, even a so-called moderate like Collins, would have been a negative for efforts to challenge her.  Now, according to Collins' likely opponent Rep. Tom Allen, it's a tremendous opportunity:

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MN-SEN: GOP gets all kinds of stupid with their Franken oppo research

Oh boy, have they got Al Franken on the run now.  I mean, this Senate candidacy might be over before it's even begun.

See, the Republican Party of Minnesota has put out a blistering document (h/t Wonkette) that compiles "The Facts About Al Franken."

And it's not pretty.

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The Conservative Blogosphere's Pledge To Make Themselves Irrelevant

Hugh Hewitt has a brilliantly self-destructive idea.

If the United States Senate passes a resolution, non-binding or otherwise, that criticizes the commitment of additional troops to Iraq that General Petraeus has asked for and that the president has pledged, and if the Senate does so after the testimony of General Petraeus on January 23 that such a resolution will be an encouragement to the enemy, I will not contribute to any Republican senator who voted for the resolution. Further, if any Republican senator who votes for such a resolution is a candidate for re-election in 2008, I will not contribute to the National Republican Senatorial Committee unless the Chairman of that Committee, Senator Ensign, commits in writing that none of the funds of the NRSC will go to support the re-election of any senator supporting the non-binding resolution.

He even set up a website for it.  And since conservative bloggers are like fireflies to a porchlight (in more ways than one), there are now 4,000 signatories to it.

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I gave the first campaign speech of my life last night

Let's get the particulars out of the way.  I'm dday, in the real world I answer to Dave Dayen, and I, like hekebolos, am running for CDP (California Democratic Party) delegate this weekend.  In fact, there are over 20 progressive bloggers running for CDP delegate slots all across the state.  My district, AD 41 (the fightin' 41st), stretches along the coast from Santa Monica all the way up to Oxnard.  There's a map here.  The 41st AD caucus meeting is on Saturday, January 13th at 10 a.m., at the Malibu Library, located at 23519 Civic Center Way (Mapquest it).  If you or someone you know is a registered Democrat in my district, I'd be honored to have you (or them) vote for me and the entire Progressive Slate.  The full details are at this DFA link.

But what I want to tell you about is my experience last night, where I gave the first campaign speech of my entire life, and how I have the blogging community to thank for the results.

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