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Davis, California

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Column: A failure to lead

The autumn winds of discontent are blowing through California. The student protests that occurred on UC campuses will undoubtedly continue into the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, the state’s budget problems haven’t been solved yet, despite the passion from protestors.

While I am no prophet, I will bet that unrest will not only occur on campuses, but will extend throughout California. A stagnant economy and a high unemployment rate tend to do that. While the entire U.S. economy is doing rather poorly right now, California is among the hardest hit states in the country.

So in these times of worry and uncertainty, what have leaders in the state capitol been doing? For them it is business as usual. Sure, there was the usual grandstanding over the yearly budget battle and the California state “garage sale,” but for the most part this state is exactly where anyone following California politics expected it to be. The budget is billions of dollars in the red and will continue to crater.

Does California have problems? Of course it does. Are these problems unsolvable and intractable? They will be if California voters don’t take action and finally hold their state leadership accountable.

The reason that California politicians have not solved the budget problem for either the present or the future is not due to stupidity or lack of intelligence. In fact it makes me think that they are practically geniuses. Convincing the public to re-elect them despite their incredible failure truly takes political genius.

California legislators had no problem expertly drawing district lines to ensure they would get re-elected over and over again. This shows exactly where most of the genius of California politicians lies. There are far too many expert politicians and far too few leaders. Ideas about how to fix the state will most likely have to come from outside the current political establishment.

There are complaints by both politicians and among voters that the California system itself is broken and ungovernable.

It is true that some laws have constrained the power of California politicians. The most famous and controversial law is a constitutional amendment called Proposition 13. This proposition drastically reduced property taxes that were rising at a phenomenal rate and pricing people out of their homes. The amendment also placed a restriction on state tax increases by requiring a two-thirds vote in both houses to pass.

Is Proposition 13 really the reason that California is now having such a terrible crisis? The law was passed in 1978. So this economy-destroying and budget-busting landmine just went off now? Or perhaps California has suffered 30 years of failure and collapse.

These reasons don’t seem to coincide with the reality of what has happened in this state. Even among those who believe Proposition 13 is the problem, no one will confront the problem directly. There is not a single elected California official who will directly say that they are against Proposition 13, and for a good reason. Even mentioning a repeal of this law could destroy their career in politics.

Clearly, California politicians will act if people put pressure on them to do so. We need to stop letting politicians hold office year after year while complaining that the state is too difficult to govern.

California needs more leaders, and not more expert politicians. The abysmal approval ratings of California elected officials as a whole should be an indicator of what needs to be done. The dichotomy of loving the representative from your own district, but hating all the others needs to stop. It should be obvious that they have collectively failed and should be individually replaced.

If Proposition 13 is the reason that governing this state is impossible, then call a spade a spade. Stop dancing around it and call it out directly. I think elected officials’ actions speak to what the real problem is. The problem lies with them.

JARRETT STEPMAN is stuffed with the wonderful food that he enjoyed this Thanksgiving. He thinks that his elected representatives should give thanks for still being in office. You can send your comments to him at jstepman@ucdavis.edu.

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