California's Political Madness

August 1, 2003

From around the country, political columnists are chiming in on recall of California Governor Gray Davis. This is my state and I resent how my state is being portrayed. California is now the object of harsh ridicule and late night jokes. Some, like columnist Pat Buchanan, place the blame on the California's generous policies on illegal immigrants. Buchanan takes it farther. He warns that what is happening in California could spread to the rest of the country.

Well, I disagree. Buchanan's explanation is too simplistic. In reality, the state's immigration policies (and programs) are part of a larger dysfunction -- one that can indeed spread to other states.

True, California's large population of illegal immigrants strains the California state budget. But they are not the cause of our political madness. The California's powerful economy has in the last four years generated a 28% increase in tax revenues - more than enough to handle the massive influx of illegal entrants, many of whom are needed by the state's large agricultural interests. But spending has increased by 38% in the same period. And buried in those numbers is the California story.

California politics sits on a dangerous fault line. We have the same bitter struggles between Republicans and Democrats as in other states. California's intra-party rivalries are even more astringent. But a peace treaty was effectively signed during the reapportionment exercise. The Republicans safeguarded their congressional majority; the Democrats locked in a majority of seats in the California state assembly and senate. Presumably, each party had the state's interests in mind when the deal was struck.

The "deal" ensured that most primaries would be empty campaigns. It also had three unintended effects.

First, by locking in a majority of assembly and senate seats, more radical left-leaning candidates run and win under the Democrat banner. And for those GOP seats remaining, conservative candidates dominate the Republican districts. There is no meaningful center. The state legislature has become the nation's laboratory for so-called "progressive" programs. Cost has not been the concern. Ideology is paramount. With safe seats back home, the Democrat majority has been free to experiment and expend the hefty budget surpluses with costly programs for the poor, the unions, and, yes, illegal entrants.

Second, by owning most of the state legislature seats, the Democrats have managed to also monopolize all elected statewide positions. With that comes the massive influx of campaign contributions from thousands of large state interest groups. The Democrats have built the most effective campaign-winning machine in the country. And now they must pay the piper - the state budget has become a Christmas tree of favors for special interest groups. Meanwhile, out of power, the republicans have resorted to attacking each other. They are unable to pass any meaningful programs, so the political price has been unimportant. Ideological purity has become primary. Republicans have done the devil's work; rival GOP factions, like street gangs, have destroyed each other in the primaries.

The last unintended result of the "deal" concerns the voters. Disenfranchised and disconnected from their state leaders, the voters have used California's voter initiative procedures to voice their concerns. And when California voters have spoken they have voiced a very different tune than the Democrat-dominated state legislature. While the democrats in Sacramento passed measures to sanctify gay/lesbian relationships, the voters voted no to gay marriages. While Sacramento worked to strengthen affirmative action, the voters voted to end affirmative action. While Sacramento expanded programs for illegal entrants, California voters voted to end all services for illegal entrants. This disconnect between the Democrats and the voters has now exploded with the recall.

The California recall is a lesson for the entire nation, as Pat Buchanan suggests. When the political parties ignore the voters for whatever reason, they ingite an eventual firestorm. When elected officials put ideology over the common good and economic sense, they will seed a fiscal and economic disaster which is now consuming California, as it did to socialist nations in the last century. When political parties succeed in building well-financed campaign machines that thrash and burn, those machines will eventually devour the madmen who built it. And finally, when political parties work to satisfy the special interests that finance them, the people will rise up and put their interests ahead of special interests.

That is the lesson in California's current political madness. Insanity is the disconnect from reality. That is exactly what has happened in both parties in California. Any party or any political leader who fails to heed the California lesson is doomed to the same political misfortune.


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Arthur Bruzzone has written over 250 political articles for national and regional media, and has commented on political and urban issues for American and European television and radio networks.  He is an award-winning public affairs television producer/host.His articles and columns have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Examiner, Campaign & Elections Magazine, among other publications. Mr. Bruzzone holds a Masters Degree in Philosophy from C.U.A in Washington , D.C., and a M.B.A. in real estate. He is a returned Peace Corps volunteer serving two years in the Kingdom of Tonga, and the former chair of the San Francisco Republican Party. He is president of a real estate investment company headquartered in San Francisco, CA.

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