Dan Walters

Dan Walters

Dan Walters: California vote bolstered status quo

Published: Sunday, Nov. 11, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 3A
Last Modified: Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013 - 8:16 pm

Every poll of Californians' attitudes toward the Legislature and other pieces of state government find deep disdain.

The mood is so sour, in fact, that even when the state's politicians sponsor ballot measures, they seek to exploit it. One example: Ads for Gov. Jerry Brown's tax measure, Proposition 30, assured voters – quite erroneously – that the money would be protected from "Sacramento politicians."

Proposition 30 passed, thus giving those politicians more money to spend. But the very next measure on the ballot, Proposition 31, failed miserably, even though it purported to reform the government that voters profess to dislike, and so did Proposition 32, which would have reduced unions' powerful influence on that government.

In these and other respects – such as strengthening the grip of the Legislature's already dominant Democrats – Californians ratified a seemingly unpopular political status quo.

There are tactical reasons for that somewhat strange outcome. For instance, those in power had a lot of money to spend because they are those in power, while those who wanted change could muster only a fraction of their foes' wherewithal.

The defeat of Proposition 31 was particularly odd.

Proposition 31, on its merits, was pretty thin gruel, far short of the major overhaul that a dysfunctional state government almost certainly needs to deal with the myriad issues facing this complex and fractious state.

It was the brainchild of a bipartisan array of political centrists called California Forward, many of whom had backed two previous reforms, a top-two primary system and independent redistricting. It spent millions of dollars of foundation money and a bequest from billionaire Nicolas Berggruen through a cross-pollinated group called Think Long California, to formulate a set of incremental reforms, mostly relating to the chronically out-of-balance state budget.

Predictably, those on the left and right disliked what became Proposition 31, the former seeing it as a de facto spending limit and the latter seeing it as a barrier to tax cuts. So it was apparent that the measure's sponsors would have to spend millions, or perhaps tens of millions, of dollars to make it happen.

There was not much of a campaign against Proposition 31 because its well-heeled Democratic and union opponents were preoccupied elsewhere. But there was virtually no campaign for it, which makes one wonder why those who wrote it bothered to spend millions to put it on the ballot.

It's doubtful that one-party rule in the Capitol, locking in the status quo, will materially improve that governance. But rejection of Proposition 31 means that much-needed structural reform – bringing more rationality, stability and accountability – is also less likely to take root.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Dan Walters

Dan Walters, political columnist

Dan Walters

Dan Walters has been a journalist for more than a half-century, spending all but a few of those years working for California newspapers. At one point in his career, at age 22, he was the nation's youngest daily newspaper editor.

He joined The Sacramento Union's Capitol bureau in 1975, just as Jerry Brown began his first governorship, and later became the Union's Capitol bureau chief. In 1981, Walters began writing the state's only daily newspaper column devoted to California political, economic and social events and, in 1984, he and the column moved to The Sacramento Bee. He has written more than 7,500 columns about California and its politics and his column now appears in dozens of California newspapers.

Email: dwalters@sacbee.com
Phone: 916-321-1195
Twitter: @WaltersBee

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