In a few days, California’s special election will be history. The voters, at
least those that bother to vote, will have had their say, pundits and
political analysts will try to divine what the results mean, and the voters
will retreat back into their own private worlds, complaining about how bad
things are in the state.
If the Governor’s initiatives are victorious, political insiders and
commentators will begin predicting what this means politically for the 2006
election. If his initiatives lose or there is a mixed result, I’m sure that
editorial writers in some of our more prominent newspapers will say that,
while it was a waste of time, maybe now both sides can sit down and solve
Californians real problems in a bipartisan manner, ignoring the political
realities of an election year.
But the question that will not be asked is a fundamental one: What do
Californians really want from their government and what are they willing to
pay for it? In poll after poll. Californians consistently say that they
don’t want higher taxes, but they want things that cost real money.
They want healthcare, but are unwilling to fund it.
They want more spent on roads, but pass initiatives like Prop 42 with big
loopholes that allow suspension of the funding for “emergencies.”
They want cheaper more reliable energy, but do not want any new power
plants, refineries or LNG terminals built.
They want California’s education system fixed, yet the only thing that
voters approved– Proposition 98 in 1988–does is to throw more and more money
at the problem without much accountability. Just look where our schools rank
Next time we take a poll, we should ask Californians what they are willing
to pay for and how much in new taxes are they willing to accept to cover
their wish list. And right off the bat, let’s tell them that the old “we’ll
only tax the rich” canard is nonsense. There aren’t enough rich people to
foot the bill, and money is mobile. It does not respect the boundaries of
geography. Let’s not kid ourselves: Everybody will pay.
This is about choices.
Voters are always looking for quick solutions and the political class is
more than willing to offer them up to a public with a short attention span.
Add water, stir and presto, problem solved! The real cost is never
discussed. An example is the Stem Cell Institute. All the noble efforts and
lofty ambitions of this institute are commendable. But what will happen if
it does not meet expectations or worse, fails in its mission? The taxpayers
of California will be on the hook for $3 billion in bonds.
At some point the voters must shoulder their share of responsibility. If
nagging problems like the cost of public employees pensions are not
addressed soon, there won’t be any money to fix the other problems facing
California. But I guess the self-absorbed, ipod-listening, text-messaging,
reality show-watching public can’t be bothered with the serious business of
citizenship. But citizenship is not and should not be a passive activity
like watching television.
Almost 2500 years ago, the Greek statesman Pericles said, “Just because you
do not take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an
interest in you”.
We are all collectively responsible for California’s welfare. The more we
allow ourselves to be swayed by 30-second ads and slash and burn political
tactics, the more we abdicate our role of holding politicians accountable
for their actions.
An electorate that is increasingly disconnected from those who govern is a
recipe for disaster. Open political discourse is the lifeblood of a healthy
democracy. But if the citizens are not vigilant because they are “turned
off” by politics or think that because a law or initiative was passed that a
problem is purportedly solved, then the voters will deserve what they get.