Schwarzenegger Admits That California Is Broken
As David Atkins discusses today, the decision on Prop. 8 by the State Supreme Court basically elevates the people as a Fourth Branch of government that cannot be countermanded by the judicial branch, no matter what their whims decide. The Court said, "the system may be broken - depending on your perspective - but that's the system we have, and we're powerless to do anything about it."
Thoughts at this point turn to the need for a transformation of this Constitution, to restore the balance of representative democracy, with a judiciary enabled to determine Constitutionality, with a legislative branch given their mandate by the people to reflect the popular will, with an executive secure in his or her role. While I do not believe that "the people" should be endlessly demonized for the options they have been given by a flawed process, I do believe that the verdict has been delivered on this form of government, and delivered as a failure. In an extraordinary discussion unrelated to the Prop. 8 case, the Governor today basically admits California is ungovernable even while vowing to follow the "will of the people," a will which he fails to properly define. Most of the rant Arnold made today involves him whining that he's not allowed to be a dictator. But some of it is brutally revealing.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger considers himself a glass-half-full guy, and he ended his California Small Business Day speech in Sacramento with a dose of optimism. But it seemed clear the governor has just about had it with California's governance system, especially after last week's special election was a colossal failure. Though he blamed many of the state's budget problems on the current economic collapse, he said part of our woes are "self-inflicted."
"California hasn't had a responsible fiscal system since Earl Warren in the late '40s and early '50s," he said.
The governor ticked off a number of complaints about the system this morning:
• The state relies too much on personal-income and capital gains taxes.
• The state doesn't have a spending cap, nor a "rainy-day fund" (the latter point is questionable given that Schwarzenegger asked voters to establish a "rainy-day" reserve in 2004, albeit one with weak restrictions).
• Federal judges tell California how to run its prison health-care system.
• Federal stimulus rules restrict how California can cut from its budget.
• California requires a two-thirds vote to approve the budget.
• An "endless list" of ballot-box budgeting requirements, including Propositions 13, 42, 49 and 1A, all of which he has championed in the past.
"Until we fix our system, nothing will ever change," Schwarzenegger said. "This is no way, of course, to run a state."
He's crying about "federal judges" who merely enforce the Constitutional right of prisoners not to be allowed to die as a cause of their incarceration. And the federal stimulus rules don't restrict a damn thing, they merely require a certain threshold of service to qualify for federal funds. Waah waah waah. But the last two are truly amazing. Schwarzenegger ADMITS the two-thirds rule has completely hamstrung government, and that "an endless list" of ballot-box budgeting have distorted the balance of power in California. Prop. 49 is the after-school program initiative that SCHWARZENEGGER HIMSELF put on the ballot prior to his tenure in office.
Arnold's press people tried to walk this back today, but this was a Kinsleyan gaffe where he made the mistake of telling the truth. Schwarzenegger has always wanted to claim to know the will of the people, and he pretty much got it right when he let his guard down today - Californians want a functional government with a basic level of services funded equitably, and they want lawmakers to do the job they were elected to do. "The people" are a Fourth Branch who want no part of being elected or serving.
The next batch of gubernatorial wannabes have a mixed record on Constitutional reform. Some reports claim that they are more interested with the rhetoric of change than offering anything specific and incurring the wrath of the unelected Fourth Branch. If in fact candidates run in this fashion, they will discover an electorate actually more interested in solutions than mantras, more interested in fundamental reform than careening along this unsustainable path. And 19 months later, when one of them sits in the office in Sacramento and actually looks deeply at the situation in which they find themselves, they'll have wished longingly for a whole raft of specific reforms they could implement right away. Because otherwise, they will sink under the weight of a top-heavy, broken governmental system.