States and their localities have more responsibility for the direct implementation of domestic policy than does the federal government and at least as much influence over jobs and economic growth. So when it comes to jobs, education, health, safety, transportation, environmental protection and more, little matters more than state legislatures.
This is especially true in California, where a single state legislator can have more impact than even a US senator or congressman on the daily lives of ordinary citizens. This year the California Legislature will levy $120 billion of taxes and fees, spend more than $200 billion including federal funds, influence the education of nine million students, pass laws affecting the jobs, wages, health and safety of nearly 40 million people, determine prison populations, the size of social safety nets, the number of open and maintained parks, the state of our infrastructure, the quality of our environment, and much more.
Yet citizens pay little attention to the 120 members of the Legislature. If they did, they might be surprised to learn a few things.
For example, Democrats might be surprised by Democratic legislators who publicly voice support for jobs, students, safety nets, environmental protection and parks but vote against those priorities in order to boost the fortunes of narrow special interests. And Republicans might be surprised by Republican legislators who voice support for jobs but reject job-boosting bills that might harm a corporation or two or increase state revenues. And all constituents might be surprised to learn about legislators who don’t understand the budgets they pass, countenance deceptive accounting, fight to keep information from citizens, and choose not to address the state’s most pressing problems in order to focus on special interests.
Interested Californians would also learn that state legislators have the tools they need to solve those pressing problems. While legislators regularly complain that voter initiatives handcuff them, no initiative stops them from improving our jobs climate, reforming our tax system, ending our structural budget deficit, fixing our pension problem, properly funding our colleges, parks and environmental protection, appropriately compensating government employees, raising revenues if and when needed, reforming determinate prison sentencing, making government more efficient, and much more.
Upon closer inspection, Californians would learn that the missing ingredient is courage. In the case of Democrats, courage means the nerve to stand up to government employee unions whose demands take funding from other programs and penalize private-sector job creation. In the case of Republicans, courage means the nerve to stand up to those unions as well as to corporations and no-tax groups who, even when presented with all the reforms they seek, refuse to acknowledge that sometimes more revenue for the government can be a good thing. And in the case of all legislators, courage means an unshakeable dedication to honest budgets, truthful accounting, open government and governing for the general interest.
Fortunately there are three reasons for optimism. First, state legislative elections are now determined under California’s new Top Two Primary and Citizens Redistricting Commission reforms, improving the odds of success for courageous problem-solvers not beholden to special interests. Second, because some of those legislative races are determined by relatively small numbers of voters and amounts of money, concentrated political spending and activity by engaged citizens can have a real impact. And third, because 100 of the 120 seats are contested every two years, change can happen quickly.
All that’s missing are courageous candidates and engaged citizens to support them. With independently-drawn election maps and open primaries, there is now an opportunity for courageous candidates to emerge. When they do, Californians must step up to support them.Towards that end, Ron Conway, Greg Penner and I have formed Govern For California so that Californians can learn about the importance of state legislators, the ability of a few courageous legislators to alter California’s direction, and the power of the electorate to make change happen. Nearer to elections, we will form an independent expenditure committee in support of courageous candidates regardless of party and from any part of the state.
In the words of Edmund Burke, for evil to happen all that’s necessary is for good people to do nothing. Our state’s governance will never turn around unless the good people of California start paying attention to the legislators who run our state. Start by learning who your state representatives are and how their votes match up with their words. And then support courageous candidates who will tell the truth and govern for California.
David Crane, President
Link to official press release: http://davidgcrane.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/GFCPressRelease.docx