By CRAIG WILLIAMS
Three strikes is a serious problem in our state. Studies show that the more unequal a society, the more likely they are to be very punitive. In California for example over 300 people are in jail for life for shoplifting. It doesn’t get any more cruel than this. I believe citizens face another type of three strikes in our political system.
I’ve had the opportunity to work in U.C. Berkely professor of linguistics George Lakoff’s Californians for Democracy campaign and have been thinking that we as citizens of the Golden State have also been subjected to a political three strikes reality.
First of all, Lakoff’s campaign is an effort to reverse the minority rule which as been in effect in California since Proposition 13. A minority of conservative legislators have been able to hijack democracy in the state, preventing rational , much needed revenue proposals for over 40 years. Education-wise , we’ve gone from first to worst. You can take a twenty out of your pocket every morning and light a match to it as your kid walks off to school . This figure is just about what they are getting shortchanged every day under the minority rule regime, compared to other industrial states. Welcome to Hotel California.
Lakoff is a professor and is giving it “the old college try,” but don’t bet the initiative will even make it on the ballot. He’s not a math professor, but the numbers are not good. The proposition is clever. It’s a mere fourteen words long. All legislative action whether budget or revenue, must be decided by majority rule. Don’t we wish.
During the seventies we became a “nation of pessimists,” according to the author of “The Great Inflation”, Robert Samuelson. With home prices and property taxes rising higher than workers could afford and threatening senior citizens even more so, we voted ourselves into a corner, now the corner has been financially boxed in by corporate California. No other state has this ridiculous set up of two thirds votes needed for revenue or the budget. Oil giant Chevron, the states biggest company, and their corporate comrades will spend as much as it takes to keep democracy out of their Golden State empire. For years we were able to grin and bare it with higher wages, but since 1980 relative wages in California have dropped by 12 percent in relationship to the rest of the country, according to Wells Fargo economist Scott Anderson. Minority rule. Strike one.
Secondly, the executive branch in Sacramento is very rarely occupied by a Democrat. Since 1980, we had only current Attorney General and gubernatiorial candidate Jerry Brown and truncated years of Gray Davis–6 our of 40 years. This is a very poor record for any state and with Meg Whitman already spending $20 million and catching up to Brown in the polls, the eBay billionaire with the help of corporate California and independent expenditures might be able to drown us all in contribution-fueld advertising. It will be like bidding on a eBay auction; raising your bid until they pass Brown in the polls and again reside in the Governor’s Mansion. Once again a fundraising-backed guaranteed power to veto will be given to the party thats has the most and spends the most dough in the Golden State. Strike two!
And the third strike is just the size of the state and how we really have a “no party“ system in the state where citizens are very low on the consideration totem pole and are remotely engage in California politics. Our elected officials organize money not people, to borrow a phrase from author Tom Ferguson. Our Assembly districts have 440,000 people in them. In Vermont, where they passed marriage equality legislation, 100-48, where the state’s population is 100 times smaller than California per assembly district. One assemblyperson per 4,000 citizens represent Vermont’s 600,00 people. Even in relatively large Massachusetts, which is in the top third of populous states, a state representative , represents about 40,000 people. Couple California’s three strikes against democracy fact with the appearance our local television media reports very little of Sacramento politics. Most local stations have no reporters in the state capitol. Call that a third strike.
The Democrats might stand a chance if they weren’t masquerading as a political party. Don’t blame the local elected officials or local party leadership. The Robin Torello’s (chair of the Alameda County Democratic Party Central Committee) of the world sacrifice plenty of time working for the party . Think about this fact , with over 427,000 members in Alameda County alone the county party organization has nothing more than a P.O.Box. Imagine if the churches or any other organization operated without even a storefront? The grim reality is that the state needs a real political party to
take collective action, but maybe it’s just too big. Political parties remember, organize money not people.
A recent Bloomberg television program posed the question to a panel of political experts who argued that California is or is not the first failed state. The distinguished guests including, former governor Davis, local environmental advocate Van Jones and the frequent television pundit Laurence O’Donnell. They could not convince the audience that we were not a failed state. Lenny Goldberg of the California Tax Reform Association argues that we have the money it’s just tied up in corporate California in a three strikes political system over $20 billion between oil severance, corporate loopholes,untaxed commodities, wealthy income tax and corporate property tax loopholes.
We are often called the eighth richest economy in the world. If we were a country the advanced democracies of the world would try to get the U.N. to issue sanctions against us for being a corporate dictatorship with three strikes against us, and they would have a good case.
Craig Williams is a San Leandro resident.