Golis: After 40 years, this blue state still likes Prop 13

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The political geniuses on the other side of the country tend to be besotted by a cartoon version of California. You know how it goes on “the left coast.” Californians spend their days getting stoned, snacking on tofu, nerding out on Instagram and plotting a socialist utopia.

Hey, dude, pass the arugula.

We are a blue state, for sure. Unlike folks in some parts of the country, most of us believe that gay people should be able to marry, women should be able to choose and the Constitution promises equal protection for everyone, including women, people of color and people who may not have been born in this country.

We also believe that America ought do something about climate change before Florida becomes a marine sanctuary or farmers are left in the dust. Who wouldn’t want to try and stop an ongoing catastrophe?

And wanting to sell wine and other products around the world (and remain the fifth-largest economy on Earth ), we believe in free trade — which used to be considered a conservative, pro-business idea.

If these things make us a liberal state, well, OK.

But the politics of California has always been more complicated than that.

Consider, for example, state voters’ ongoing love affair with Proposition 13.

We just marked the 40th anniversary of the anti-tax measure, which would become the precursor to other initiatives designed to limit the ability of government to raise taxes and make other changes.

For the occasion, a poll commissioned by the Public Policy Institute of California showed a majority of adults (57 percent) and an even larger majority of likely voters (65 percent) believe Proposition 13 is “mostly good” for California. Even 55 percent of the Democrats like the measure. There’s a reasons two generations of Democratic legislatures have left it alone.

Meanwhile, early polls suggest that state voters in November may decide to repeal a recent increase in the state gasoline tax. Californians like to complain about the condition of their roads and highways, but it’s not clear they’re willing to pay for improvements.

So this is California, too — a state that embraces proposals to limit the size and authority of government.

Some of these restrictions make it harder for California to solve its problems. It’s not difficult to list the inequities, inefficiencies and general wrongheadedness associated with the restrictions imposed by Proposition 13.

But if you think this is going to change, you need to get out more. A Public Policy Institute of California poll last month found that fewer than four in 10 state voters said they trusted state government do the right thing.

While California remains a Democratic state, no one should underestimate the contributions of the official Republican Party, which seems content to cling to ideas that offend the majority of voters. If it wants to remain irrelevant, the GOP has found a winning (or maybe, losing) formula.

In the past 20 years, only two Republicans — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner — have won statewide office. Schwarzenegger now compares his party to the Titanic, and Poizner is running for insurance commissioner again, this time as an independent.

For them, the calculus is simple: According to a new analysis, there now are more voters who decline to state a party preference than voters who register Republican.

A New York Times editorial even suggested that Schwarzenegger and other reform-minded Republicans “ought to create a new party that can woo independent voters, former Republicans and even disaffected Democrats.”

The commentary explained: “If a new California-based party can win votes and legislative seats, it could send a signal to politicians around the country that moderation can be a bankable political strategy, helping to break the vise grip of tribal politics that has turned so much of national politics into a blood sport and made it impossible for Congress to pass substantive bipartisan legislation.”

The idea of a successful third party in California remains far-fetched on a good day, but the suggestion speaks to a simple reality: Many people feel unrepresented by either party.

In part, their alienation speaks to the cynicism of our time, but it’s also true government doesn’t always work as well as it should, often because the political parties are stuck in lockstep with their most ideological and self-interested constituents.

When it comes to education, housing, streets and highways, state government hasn’t always kept faith with the investments made by previous generations of Californians.

A national government — trapped between an erratic president and a train wreck of a Congress — seems to be rushing headlong toward one or more disasters. The same PPIC poll said fewer than one in five Californians trust the federal government to do the right thing.

Going forward, we like to believe that California can be better and smarter than that. Hold the thought.

Pete Golis is a columnist for The Press Democrat. Email him at golispd@gmail.com.

You can send a letter to the editor at letters@pressdemocrat.com

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