What not to do: Lessons from California
The great thing about the United States is that there is a mechanism for experimentation. Each state is free, within certain bounds, to try new ideas. However, that is only useful if the lessons learned, good and bad, are taken seriously.
There is a prime example of failed liberalism seen in our neighbor to the west. California was once a great state. It has some of the best scenery in the country. It produces more agriculture products than any other state, some of which are grown nowhere else in America. It was once the shining star of business and innovation. Its economy is larger than that of many countries. It was the dream of many young people to move to a better life in California.
It is a morass of laws and regulations that are literally breaking the state. If you visit California, you probably broke several laws just by entering the state. The state and several municipalities are constantly seeking to regulate your behavior to force you to fit some not-yet-fully-designed standard.
California has some of the most restrictive air pollution standards in the nation, but has some of the dirtiest air in some cities. Some cities now seek to ban plastic drinking straws for some not-fully-thought-out environmental agenda. It has determined itself to not need state or national borders, giving sanctuary to anyone who dares break immigration law. Its homeless population, such as that in San Francisco, is overtaking several liberal bastions such that it is no longer safe to walk the streets.
It is no wonder that for the first time, more people are leaving California than are moving there. They are fleeing over-regulation, some of the highest taxes in the nation, and the overwhelming need of government to dictate every aspect of daily life.
Pundits point to California as a model for America’s political future. They explain how a once bitterly divided state transformed into a state dominated by one party in a very short period of time, and they tout this as a good thing.
The problem in their analysis is that they essentially compare apples to oranges. The factors involved in California’s swing to one-party dominance were unique to California and can’t necessarily be applied to the country at large.
Moreover, Democratic Party dominance in California doesn’t necessarily mean Californians have become more progressive or that progressive policies have worked.
But how did they get to this state of affairs? After all, California used to regularly elect Republican governors and vote consistently for Republican presidential candidates.
Here are some reasons. In 2006, the state passed a new law requiring candidates to participate in a single consolidated open primary, often called the “jungle primary.” In these primaries, the top two vote-getters end up on the election ballot, where they square off against each other. This system has driven many Republicans off the election ballot, as the top two slots are often won by Democrats. This law made California ripe for one-party rule.
In addition to the one-sided jungle primary system, a redistricting plan in 2010 tightened Democrats’ control of the state. Initially billed as a nonpartisan effort to do away with gerrymandering, the plan was hijacked by state Democrats who stacked the commission with progressive activists. This further wiped out opposition to the Democrat Party in the state over the last decade.
Finally, middle class residents are fleeing the state in droves. This sector was once the voting “brake” that prevented elections from swinging too far in one direction. Now they leave while the wealthy move in. This has resulted in a two-tier system of rich and poor. Oddly, California has some of the nation’s highest poverty rates and lowest quality of life ratings.
With their opposition made toothless, progressives have been free to conduct their policy experiments unopposed. The results leave much to be desired. That is why there will be a ballot initiative on the 2018 ballot to divide the state into three states. The rural east and north and the central valley areas have apparently had enough of no voice in government. The result will be interesting.
Also, many of those who fled now warn the states they arrived at to be vigilant against creating another California.
California’s fall from being the model American dream to a series of high-end secure enclaves surrounded by poverty is no model for the rest of the country. Rather, it is a serious warning. Las Vegas, are you listening?
Tom Riggins’ column appears every other Friday. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.