The editors asked for an overview of the special election, a review of the
issues and potential outcomes and a notion or two about what may happen if
one side or the other dominates this titanic struggle between labor and
Frankly, that requires a scholarly approach this election doesn’t deserve.
It could do with a rant.
Every time I think about Nov. 8, the word that forms–then sticks–in my
mind is “failure.”
The special election of 2005 represents a failure to govern, a failure to
lead, a failure to act in good faith, a failure to respond to the state’s
urgent needs, a failure to heed the fundamental desires of an increasingly
frustrated electorate. This is not a new idea, and any politician that
hasn’t grasped it by now has the IQ of a crowbar. Voters are entitled to a
government that addresses deteriorating schools, housing shortages,
overcrowded highways, costly health care, a damaged environment–to mention
but a few problems. Instead, they are asked to referee squabbles and give
the upper hand to one or another special interest.
It may be an oversimplification to characterize this off-year election as a
struggle for power between labor and business. Oversimplified, perhaps, but
Labor wields enormous clout with the Democrat-controlled Legislature, while
the business and corporate communities exercise massive influence over the
administration of Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Is there any common ground between these two sides on significant issues?
One would think so, given that we’re all in the same canoe. But finding that
ground requires courage, vision and the kind of leadership that sees the
bigger picture rather than views the world through slits in a bunker. It
requires leaders who listen to all voices and understand that universal
prosperity depends on reconciling the conflict of dreams.
We have no such leadership, not in California, not at this moment.
There is a western saying about those who talk big but deliver nothing: “All
hat and no cattle.” Sacramento is filled with “all hat and no cattle”
politicians who speak grandly about bipartisan cooperation and meaningful
reform yet act to produce neither. They instead fling down gauntlets that
become self-fulfilling prophesies. They employ an army of campaign
consultants, media experts, pollsters, fund raisers, signature
gatherers–mercenaries who grow wealthy fanning the grease fire we now
substitute for “government”–and the result of their work is a toxic
atmosphere that cannot create or nurture solutions. Instead, it coughs up
the loogies we see on the ballot next week–one-sided ballot proposals meant
to cripple an opponent.
And so it has come to this special election, this ill-conceived, ill-timed
exercise in political ego. Had there been any real attempt top resolve
differences, any significant effort to ward off these conflicts of will, we
might be able to say, “All remedies having been exhausted, this then is
inevitable.” But there was no such effort. There were only threats and
posturing and rhetorical one-upmanship that fostered a level of mistrust as
annoying as it is well deserved.
There is nothing good to say about this election. The money spent on it is
obscene, the creative talent wasted on it tragic and the ambitions used to
fuel it shameful.
My hope is that the voters of California are more reasoned than the people
who represent them in Sacramento. My hope is that they pound the petunias
out of every measure placed before them this fall; defeat them all,
including the redistricting initiative that I support in concept but refuse
to vote for on this ballot. Kick each one of them right back to the Capitol
with a note: “This is your job.”
That way, the message imprinted on Sacramento is not that this proposal or
that proposal is better or worse but that the political establishment has
let the people down. That statement addresses behavior: How you have
conducted yourselves, Mr. Governor and Mr. Speaker and the rest, is
deplorable and an abuse of our trust.
As a people, as an electorate, at this moment, we — all of us — ought to
be right there with Howard Beale: “mad as hell.”