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California's Sisyphean Storm

June 5, 2009

by Patrick Atwater
California's Sisyphean Storm

It doesn't take a genius to figure out that the UC system is one of California State Government's few remaining bright spots. California's Universities are world-renowned, doing world-class research and attracting the best and brightest from around the globe. Sure there are problems, and like all organizations, the system could be run better. But certainly not by transferring control to one of the most dysfunctional governmental bodies in the country, the California State Legislature, right? Wrong, at least according to California State Senator Leland Yee. Last week, Yee introduced a bill to seize control of the UC system away from the UC regents. Is there a more disgustingly political move possible? It's power for its own sake. Politics as the end of discourse and the means of gaining more power - rather than the means of enacting (what one believes is) sound policy. It's enough to make a guy want to slap another 1F on them - populist nonsense or not.

And listening to the Governor's speech on Tuesday, it looks like things are going to get better before they get worse. According to State Controller John Chiang, we're eleven days away from running out of cash. So we've got to cut - big and fast. Yet sadly most of the state's budget is locked up in formulas and constitutionally protected programs. So the legislature is going to have to cut a few programs big and leave others untouched - regardless of merit. I know stem cell research is great and all, but fundamental science research takes time. And right now we're firing fire fighters when fire season is right around the corner. Who knew harnessing the symbolic might of the people's will could produce bad results?

The Governor has some unilateral options on the table - like his proposal to open up more of California's waters to drilling. But he doesn't control his executive cabinet, and the Lieutenant Governor John Garamendi and State Controller John Chiang (both Democrats) oppose the proposal. That's what independently elected state offices gets you. (Thank you again turn of the century Progressives.) Regardless of your position on offshore drilling, it's absurd that the Governor is hamstrung by members of his nominal executive team. There's a reason the nation passed the twelfth amendment after the Jefferson/Burr debacle.

But I'm not going to blame the Progressives. It's been said that the California political class is willing to blame anyone but themselves (read the LA Times blaming the voters for budget debacle because of all the spending initiatives the voters passed - when the LA Times endorsed 20 out of the last 22 bond measures) - the implication being it's the political class that's responsible for this mess. But I think that doesn't go far enough. California's current problems are big enough that there's more than enough blame to go around. And they're deep enough that it's going to take more than blame and politicking for us to get out of this mess.

Politics can only ever legitimately function within the socio-legal edifice. We don't endorse bribery and corruption - effective as they politically may be - because they are transgressions against the law - not to mention social norms and good sense. But when that edifice is so twisted by the perverted governmental structure our constitution sets up and so stained by the ingrained power of public employee unions and fringe ideological groups, it must be torn down and forged anew. A systemic problem needs a system-wide solution - i.e. a constitutional convention.

A constitutional convention will be risky, will be political, and may not work. But those speak to the difficulty of the path, not it's trustworthiness. It has the potential to fix what all else has not and likely cannot. Sure, you could say, "No, it's too hard; it's too radical; it's just not worth it.  Let's do something a little more reasonable."  Realistically though, you can add on all the good government bells and whistle - all the Prop 11's - you want.  But that will inevitably just be trimming around the edges - rendered meaningless as the rotten core percolates through each piecemeal reform one by one. How else can you explain Arnie's Governorship?  It's been a series of idealistic hopes dashed on the same rocks of constitutional reality - with the tattered remains of a few symbolic victories fluttering in the wind. We need to deal with the root of the problem.  If it means we throw everything out and attempt to redream government in California, then so be it.  If there ever was a place to start over, to embrace hope as our last remaining purview of social redemption, it has to be California, whose idea allows even little girls in Sweden to dream of "silver screen flirtation." (The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Californication) At least, we all should hope: as the saying goes, California's present is America's future.

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