Bill Whalen

We need serious downsizing in California’s politics

Donald Trump, center, with former GOP rivals Ben Carson, left, and Jeb Bush in a debate staged in October at the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley. Since Trump’s likely to be campaigning in the state before the June 7 primary, says commentator Bill Whalen, more such debates should be arranged.
Donald Trump, center, with former GOP rivals Ben Carson, left, and Jeb Bush in a debate staged in October at the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley. Since Trump’s likely to be campaigning in the state before the June 7 primary, says commentator Bill Whalen, more such debates should be arranged. Bloomberg News file

Here’s downsizing that Californians of all political stripes can support: A handful of 2016’s presidential also-rans removed their names from the June primary ballot (a candidate has to make the request, otherwise he or she remains a ballot apparition).

It means Republicans won’t get to vote for the likes of Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Carly Fiorina or Marco Rubio. Oddly, Ben Carson remains on the ballot and thus could take away votes from Donald Trump, whom Carson supports – albeit with backhanded surgical skill.

Why not take downsizing beyond the June ballot?

My three candidates:

The November ballot

At present, 76 initiatives have been cleared for circulation and one in five is pot-related – a possible side effect of marijuana use is redundancy.

Already, nine measures on various issues are either qualified or eligible for November.

While 28 measures went before California voters in the 2000 presidential election, 20 of them were on that’s year’s March primary ballot. With initiatives now shoehorned into the general election, this year’s voter guide could double as a doorstop.

One in-circulation idea that Californians could live without is expanding the Legislature 100-fold, from 120 to 12,000. It’s supposedly for more personal representation, but 10,000 Maniacs is a good name for an alternative rock band, not life under the Capitol dome.

UC finances

“Maniac” is a less profane version of the University of California’s opinion of Catharine Baker and Kristin Olsen, a pair of Republican assemblywomen trying to make sense of why nonresidents seem to have an easier time accessing and cherry-picking the vaunted UC system.

In addition to the shady enrollment policy, there’s a question of how the UC stretches its dollars: hiring back furloughed workers, generous executive compensation and a low-interest home loan program for faculty and senior administrators.

Downsizing, in this case, means UC belt-tightening.

It also means political gamesmanship. Assembly Democrats are trying to win Republican seats this fall to reach a 54-seat supermajority, and one target is Baker, the Bay Area’s lone GOP state legislator.

Will Democrats give Baker and Olsen a forum for pursuing this potent issue (name a parent who isn’t miffed about college admissions these days)? Or will they let the majority run the show – and hog the credit?

The Donald

The Republican presidential front-runner has been campaigning for not quite 300 days. According to one study, he’s received about $2 billion worth of free media attention – six times more than Ted Cruz; two-and-a-half times that of Hillary Clinton.

Downsizing Trump-related coverage may be wishful thinking, given an industry that’s driven by ratings and profits.

So let’s change the conversation from quantity to quality.

Assuming Trump will frequent California in May, there’s nothing stopping the Golden State’s newsmakers, academics and media outlets from attempting to elevate the conversation.

The state’s largest television markets should pursue debates. Higher-learning institutions should arrange student forums. I can think of at least three venues – the Commonwealth Club of California, Town Hall Los Angeles, the Sacramento Press Club – well suited for in-depth policy addresses.

Such is the effect of dieting: you crave sugar, carbs – and a better style of politics.

Bill Whalen is a Hoover Institution research fellow and former speechwriter for former Gov. Pete Wilson. Whalen can be reached at whalenoped@gmail.com.

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