The California GOP's Assault on Democracy

Since the elections this past November, Republicans across the country have been reveling in their newfound power in Congress and in state legislatures across the country by attempting to enact a series of policy excesses that in many cases have nothing to do with their campaign platform. Federally, Speaker Boehner has done absolutely nothing to promote job creation, but the 112th Congress has proffered H.R.3, which in its original form would have not only eliminated tax deductions for businesses that purchase health plans that pay for abortions, but went so far as to redefine rape as only including those that were "forcible."

Many states are also experiencing the same sort of extremism. Newly elected GOP administrations in Wisconsin and Ohio are doing everything they can do destroy public employee unions, and have supplemented that battle royale by rejecting federal transportation money for high-speed rail projects. In Florida, Governor Rick Scott pulled the same high-speed rail gambit, but seems more interested in pushing bills that will lead to his personal enrichment (The GOP legislature, meanwhile, is more concerned with what body parts you can or can't say on the floor). Indiana is apparently too busy making sure they don't have any rape or incest cheats to focus on anything else. In the case of all of them, however, they have at least a tepid excuse: They were elected in a massive Republican wave, and this is what they apparently think their constituents want.

In California, however, the situation is quite different. There may have been a red wave sweeping the country in 2010, but as GOP gubernatorial nominee Meg Whitman's campaign manager Mike Murphy described it, California experienced a blue riptide. From governor all the way down to superintendent of public instruction, Democrats swept—usually in landslides, despite significant funding disadvantages at the top of the ticket, where billionaire Meg Whitman spent $150 million of her own money only to lose to Jerry Brown by 13 points. In the attorney general race, the only close statewide race, a younger, female, mixed-race district attorney of San Francisco named Kamala Harris defeated an older white male from Los Angeles County, Steve Cooley, who had easily won countywide election twice. Not only that, but Democrats held every single Congressional seat and even gained a seat in the State Assembly—earning as overwhelming a mandate as one could possibly imagine.

But that hasn't prevented Republicans from acting as if they own the state and ruling it as a small minority. While a recently approved measure reduced the threshold for passing a budget in California to a simple majority, it still requires a supermajority of two-thirds to raise any additional revenues, and Republicans have just enough seats in the Legislature to block any such proposal. Governor Brown already signed into law nearly $11 billion in deep budget cuts, but even that still left a hole of roughly $15 billion—a sum that Brown would like to see filled with revenue increases to complement the massive cuts he already signed into law.

But the GOP? They're having none of it. Instead of accepting the fact that Democrats in California have an overwhelming governing mandate, that Jerry Brown has already slashed the budget significantly, and that poll after poll has shown that voters favor a balanced budgetary approach that includes both cuts and tax increases, the Republican Party in California is holding democracy hostage in service to their anti-tax ideology. See, the revenue increases in question wouldn't just be implemented through a vote of the legislature; They would be put on the ballot for the voters of California to approve. But the GOP won't even let the people vote. Instead, the Republicans have, like hostage-takers, released a list of demands that Governor Brown must meet before they'll even allow the people their most basic of privileges under a democratic system of governance: to cast a ballot on whether to raise revenues or not. These demands are the usual Norquistian platform of gutting pensions, deregulation, and destruction of environmental protections. As Tenoch Flores, communications director of the California Democratic Party, put it to me in a recent email:

The California Republican Party is in the slow, painful process of permanent decline and they seem willing to take our state along with them. While Republicans across the country made gains last year, Republicans here lost every single contest for statewide office and even lost a seat in the State Assembly. There is no leadership to speak of and that’s why you see them turning to ideologues outside California like Grover Norquist for leadership. If Grover Norquist tells them to hold the state hostage, they go and hold the state hostage. And that’s exactly what they’ve done here.

Governor Brown is finding it hard to argue—which is why he has declared the negotiation process dead and is deciding to bypass the legislature by collecting the nearly 900,000 signatures necessary to place his tax measures on the ballot without legislative approval.

Good. But Brown has lost valuable time, as it will now be impossible to have a June election, and a postponement of a vote until November will make things far more difficult due to the timing of California's fiscal year. All of the previous standstills in the California budget process, combined with the insanity permeating the tea party and the DC Republicans who cater do it, combined with what happened to Barack Obama during the debate over health care reform, combined with the intractability of what the GOP is doing in other states, should have led to one foregone conclusion: Today's modern GOP will brook no compromise, and they will not negotiate in good faith. As the political observers at CalBuzz opine:

As Peter Schrag shrewdly opined this week, Brown let himself get perilously close to being played for as big a fool by the GOP as did Barack Obama.  Three days after his inauguration, Obama memorably told GOP congressional leaders at the White House that "Elections have consequences and, at the end of the day, I won."

Then he went out and acted like he’d lost.

Obama’s hideous political blunder was to allow himself to be strung along by bad faith for nearly a year in hopes of getting a bipartisan health care reform bill. All he got for his trouble was months and months of bookend cable chatter about how ugly the sausage-making process was; at the end of the day, he finally rammed through a Democrats-only bill, which he could have done much earlier, with much less damage inflicted by the right-wing echo chamber framing machine to the perception the country had about what was actually in the legislation.

Brown—perhaps too much a believer in his own ability to charm and reason—behaved in much the same way.

For too long now on a nationwide scale, Democrats have played Charlie Brown to the Republicans' Lucy with the football. But in the case of California, it is especially galling: GOP voter registration is at a historic low—hovering around 31%—and the voters just delivered the Democrats a resounding statewide victory. In Congress, or in other states, the excruciating quest for compromise to obtain GOP votes may be unavoidable. In California, however, GOP votes for anything not related to taxes are an afterthought, and even taxes can be brought before the people with enough money and signatures.

The GOP is unrelenting, shortsighted, and incapable of compromise—and they should be ignored at every opportunity. In California, we have the chance to do exactly that, and should take full advantage rather than banging our collective heads against a wall in the hopes of coming to centrist or center-right solutions that receive the political cover of bipartisanship.


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