Mark Twain observed that a new year is “the accepted time to make your annual good resolutions. Next week, you can begin paving hell with them as usual.”
“Next week” has now arrived and, for California’s sake, here’s hoping we’re not purgatory-bound, specifically on these three political story lines in 2016.
The Legislature. Legislators won’t lack for challenges, some of them holdovers from last year (infrastructure, plus that pesky $1 billion Medi-Cal hole in the budget).
The good news: If you believe gun control, policing policies and driverless cars are driving concerns at the state level, California lawmakers are ahead of the national curve, having acted on all three in 2015.
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The bad news: The nagging sense that California lawmakers are misplacing their priorities. Nothing against making feminine hygiene products tax-exempt or requiring state contractors to certify they’re not anti-Israeli – two ideas first out of the chute this week.
But there’s a greater menace at hand: heroin and painkiller addiction. Unlike crack, it can’t be dismissed as an inner-city problem. And it will require a delicate blend of tough enforcement and merciful rehabilitation.
The governor. He’s not on the ballot, nor does he have a horse in the race yet on the bloated slate of initiatives. But at some point soon, Jerry Brown will descend from Olympus – or the family ranch in Colusa County – and stake his claim for 2016.
He came out forcefully on what to do with the budget surplus, which will be this summer’s defining argument – lawmakers wanting to blow through it, the governor preferring to hoard it. California needs an adult to supervise the vault, and Brown hopefully holds the line.
Brown’s challenge is as politically and emotionally invested as he is in his stable of hobby horses – high-speed rail, Delta tunnels, climate change – he must not allow lawmakers to mistake a wet winter for an end to California’s drought.
Again, there’s bound to be a fractious debate – as with the state budget, stewardship vs. consumption. If Brown wants to cement that adult reputation, this is where he makes lawmakers stay after class and finish their assignment.
The Senate race. By this time next year, California will have a new U.S senator – words not written since Bill (not Hillary) Clinton first took the presidential oath in January 1993.
For fans of California’s open primary, this could be the year when the theoretical becomes reality – a general election featuring two candidates from the same party that compels at least one contender to become more centrist. The November race could be between Attorney General Kamala Harris and Rep. Loretta Sanchez, both Democrats.
On the other hand, the contest could resemble California’s all-female Senate race six years ago. It didn’t take long for the campaign to get ... well, catty (“God, what is that hair? So yesterday!” Carly Fiorina said of Barbara Boxer’s coif). Given that Sanchez already has interjected race in the race – telling audiences they deserve a senator who can speak Spanish – it’s not a stretch to imagine this race going off the rails.
That would be a sad statement about futuristic California if two female candidates were flinging mud pies while America is electing its first woman president. Such is the irony of attempting political reform in California: Try as one might to remove partisanship, there’s no known remedy for pettiness.
But, hey, the political year is still young. There’s no telling where the road will take us.
Bill Whalen is a Hoover Institution research fellow and former speechwriter for Gov. Pete Wilson. Whalen can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.