As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Monday, January 12, 2009

So You Won An Election; Now Keep Us Out Of Bankruptcy

Congratulations to those brave souls who managed to win Assembly delegate elections over the weekend. Your first state Convention, scheduled for Sacramento in April, should coincide nicely with the mass protests from folks who got IOUs instead of their expected tax refunds, the first double-digit employment numbers in the state in a generation, and essentially the near-total shutdown of state government, by design, from a working conservative majority that uses outdated and anti-majoritarian rules to destroy the state for their own ends.

I have a hard time arguing with the deep pessimism from Dan Walters today.

What, if anything, will come next to pull us out of recession and return California to prosperity? Some think it will be biotechnology, services to baby boomer retirees or solving global warming.

Lurking in the background, however, is a nagging worry that there won't be anything, that the state's endemically high costs, political dysfunction and long list of unresolved dilemmas, from transportation to water to education, have made us uncompetitive in a global economy. Just last week, a new federal survey found that California has the nation's highest adult illiteracy rate.

We have tended to take the future for granted. No matter how moribund the economy may be at the moment, we think, we have the weather, the entrepreneurial spirit and the strategic location to regroup and prosper.

We may have. But then again, maybe we aren't so special. Maybe we're not immune to the societal afflictions that have beset other states. Maybe we are a rust-belt-to-be on the left coast, a Michigan with winter sunshine.

This is not a failure of entrepreneurship or a lack of a desirable consumer base. It's quite simply a failure of politics, a series of compromises and capitulations that have led the state into a blind alley. Because legislative Democrats have never effectively rid the process of the constraints of the past, they have made the future impossible.

The biggest burst of meaningful political activism in recent history was the crusade to defeat Arnold's special election in 2005. That happened outside the party structure because labor felt threatened and needed to lead an effort, working together with the grassroots and the party establishment to fight back. There was a singular mission and nobody brought their own single-issue buckets to the table. Their public relations strategy and the activism they encouraged was nothing short of brilliant. But it was primarily a defensive maneuver. Now the CTA is trying to add a penny to the sales tax in a more offensive maneuver to secure funding for schools. This is precisely the wrong way to go. It carves out another dedicated funding source for one area while imposing a regressive tax on the state's most burdened citizens. Single-issue money grabs will not do the job. Unity is the great need of the hour.

At one of the AD meetings I attended this weekend, my Assemblywoman, Julia Brownley, got up to speak. I would call her a pretty mild-mannered woman. She practically pleaded with everyone in attendance, saying "We need your help... the Governor is breaking this state... we need you to throw your shoes at Arnold." She was sending out an urgent call for the kind of unified activism that broke Arnold's back in 2005. It's a heavier lift because it requires something proactive rather than reactive. But without labor, grassroots activists and the party establishment working in concert, this is going to be the worst 2 years of all these newly-elected delegates' lives.

There are going to be two Democratic legislative initiatives this week: a request for a federal government loan to ensure our unemployment insurance fund doesn't go broke, and legislation putting a moratorium on foreclosures, which cost roughly $250,000 each to the greater economy in opportunity costs and property value reductions. There is help coming in the form of hopefully $5-7 billion dollars from the federal recovery package, earmarked for state and local government relief. But eventually, we're going to turn to the ballot. In June of this year, there's going to be a host of initiatives, and we need there to be more than simply signing off on the bad budget of last year, but real structural reform, whether to do with 2/3 or expanding the budget cycle to 2 years or even the tax increases in the Democratic budget (The LAO thinks that election should happen earlier to relieve this crisis of confusion). These MUST get on the ballot, and they MUST pass, with a coalition of every progressive in the state working toward that passage. The survival of the state hangs in the balance.

So good for you, winners. Now make sure you don't get picketed during your first convention. Because if you don't, I'll be the first one out there with a sign.

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