A Strategy to Transform California in One Election

By Edward Ring
June 26, 2019

As a statewide political force, California’s conservative voters are disenfranchised. Almost no politicians holding state office speak for conservatives, few court rulings favor conservatives, and nearly everywhere, conservative values are discredited or ignored by a hostile press. But California’s political landscape could be poised for dramatic shifts. Even now, after more than a decade of national economic expansion that has especially favored California’s high tech industries, the negative consequences of liberal political dominance are increasingly visible.

Today Californian voters might reject liberal governance if they were offered candidates offering a new political agenda designed to rescue California’s schools and lower the cost of living. A successful agenda to transform California doesn’t even have to be labeled “conservative.” A new political agenda for California can be presented as nonpartisan, targeting not only conservatives, but independents and disaffected liberals. To fill the big tent, all this agenda has to do is offer big ideas that will have transformative impact.

Proponents of a new political agenda for California will arouse fierce opposition from special interests and ideologues ranging from orthodox libertarians to fanatic leftist “identitarians,” to the environmentalist lobby and their profiteering corporate partners. But the ferocity of their opposition can be used against them; surely these common sense solutions can’t possibly be as bad as they’re saying. Every negative ad they run, and every negative commentary spewed by their acolytes and puppets, will harm their cause as much as it helps because it will expose them: what they object to is an agenda for the people, not the special interests or the fanatics.

To counter the opposition, proponents of a new agenda for California must assert, continuously and without apology, principles they know are right:

  • Competitive abundance instead of politically contrived scarcity.
  • Equality of opportunity instead of equality of outcome.
  • Practical environmentalism instead of extremism.

The rhetoric that can derive from these principles should cascade into every set of talking points, campaign flyers, op-eds and responses to attacks from California’s liberal elites. The rhetoric should occupy and hold the moral high ground:

  • There is a moral value to providing opportunity by making California affordable.
  • There is a moral value to instilling pride by abandoning race and gender preferences.
  • There is a moral value to embracing policies of abundance – by turning the private sector loose to increase the supply of housing, energy, water, transportation.

Here then, are twelve specific proposals that might constitute a political agenda to be aggressively promoted as a way to break the liberal power that is breaking California:

A BIPARTISAN, TRANSFORMATIVE POLITICAL AGENDA FOR CALIFORNIA

(1) Public Education Reform: K-12 Tenure, Layoff, Dismissal Policies: California teachers will be required to complete a minimum of five years of classroom teaching prior to being granted tenure. School principals shall have sole authority over what teachers may be subject to layoff, in order to allow merit instead of seniority to govern layoff decisions. The process for dismissing incompetent or ineffective teachers shall be streamlined.

(2) Enable Charter Schools: The right of nonprofit institutions to open charter public schools shall not be infringed; no limit shall be set on the number of charter schools. Charter school approval shall be binding based on any one of the following agencies granting approval – the local school district board, the local county board of education, or the California Dept. of Education.

(3) Housing Abundance: Repeal the “Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act” of 2008 and make it easy for developers to build homes on the suburban and exurban fringes, instead of just “in-fill” that destroys existing neighborhoods. Cancel the war on the single family dwelling, and allow developers (or in some cases even require them) to build homes with large yards again. Repeal excessive building codes such as mandatory photovoltaic roof panels. Create a regulatory environment that encourages private investment in new housing developments instead of discouraging it.

(4) Helping the Homeless: California’s attorney general will challenge the decision in Jones vs the City of Los Angeles, that ruled that law enforcement and city officials can no longer enforce the ban on sleeping on sidewalks anywhere within the Los Angeles city limits until a sufficient amount of permanent supportive housing could be built. To help all the homeless, and to get them off the streets, argue for ruling that permits cost-effective shelter, hospitalization, and incarceration, as appropriate.

(5) Restore Law and Order: Repeal Prop 47 which downgraded property crimes and drug offenses, making it impossible to engage in “broken windows” policing. Repeal Prop. 57, which released thousands of criminals back onto California’s streets. Repeal AB 953, which needlessly bureaucratized police work and made it harder to make arrests based on objective criteria.

(6) CEQA Reform: California’s Environmental Quality Act of 1970, “CEQA,” will be modified as follows: (a) duplicative lawsuits shall be prohibited, (b) all entities that file CEQA lawsuits will be required to fully disclose their identities and their environmental or non-environmental interest, (c) court rules that still enable delaying tactics will be illegal, (d) rulings that stop entire projects on a single issue will be prohibited, (d) the loser in CEQA litigation will be liable for legal fees.

(7) Renewables Pricing Reform: Under the current flawed system, California’s public utilities are required to purchase an ever increasing percentage of their total kilowatt-hours from “renewable” sources. But then these utilities have to purchase backup power from other sources which can only make money as backup power plants, greatly increasing their prices since they can’t operate all the time. Meanwhile providers of renewable energy only have to invest in relatively inexpensive, intermittent power – solar panels and wind farms. This makes renewable energy appear far cheaper than it is in reality. To fix this, California must require renewable electricity suppliers to include in their pricing the costs for them to deliver reliable continuous power 24 hours per day, 365 days per year, and lower its renewable portfolio mandate to 20 percent until renewables are competitive with other forms of energy using this new pricing model.

(8) Nuclear Power Development: California’s government will use all its powers to promote nuclear power. It will recommission the San Onofre nuclear power station and construct additional reactors. It will cancel the planned decommissioning of Diablo Canyon nuclear power station and construct additional reactors. It will solicit bids for public/private financing of additional nuclear power capacity with a goal of increasing total California based nuclear power output from the current 2.1 gigawatts to at least 10 gigawatts. The state attorney general will aggressively litigate in support of fast tracking approval and construction of these projects.

(9) Water Infrastructure Funding: California will issue general obligation bonds in the sum of $30 billion to accomplish the following specific projects: (a) $3.0 billion for the Sites Reservoir (supplementing funds already granted) with storage capacity of 2.0 million acre feet (MAF), (b) $3.0 billion for the Temperance Flat Reservoir with storage capacity of 1.0 MAF, (c) $7.5 billion for desalination plants on the California coast with annual capacity of 0.5 MAF, (d) $7.5 billion to retrofit urban water treatment plants statewide to potable standards with annual reuse capacity of 1.0 MAF, (e) $4.0 billion to retrofit existing aqueducts with priority on the Friant/Kern canal, (f) $5.0 billion for seismic retrofits to levees statewide, with a focus on the Delta. The timeline for submittal of proposals and awarding of funds shall not exceed 12 months. The state attorney general will aggressively litigate in support of fast tracking approval and construction of these projects.

(10) Additional Highway Funding: California will issue general obligation bonds in the sum of 30 billion to upgrade and add lanes to every major freeway in the state. Priority shall be granted to construction of high speed lanes and smart lanes. These funds will supplement funds already awarded for road construction. The timeline for submittal of proposals and awarding of funds shall not exceed 12 months. The state attorney general will aggressively litigate in support of fast tracking approval and construction of these projects.

(11) Pension Benefit Reform: The California constitution will be amended to eliminate the so-called “California Rule,” which allegedly prohibits modification to pension benefit accruals for future work. Pension benefits for state and local employees, for future work, shall revert to rates of accrual that were in effect in 1998.

(12) Pension Funds Infrastructure Investment: California’s state and local government employee pension funds shall be required to invest a minimum of 10 percent of their assets in general obligation bonds. These investments shall be limited to infrastructure bonds issued by the state to fund water or transportation infrastructure within California.

From a practical standpoint, these is the question of who would promote this sort of political agenda. But it doesn’t have to be a political party. It can bypass party organizations. For example, it can take the form of  twelve state ballot initiatives, funded by a coalition of donors, or, for that matter, just one of California’s 124 billionaires. For far less than Meg Whitman squandered in her bid to become a moderate Republican governor of California in 2010, all twelve of these initiatives could be put onto the 2020 state ballot and there would be plenty left over to run an aggressive statewide campaign to promote them to voters. With that in place, candidates for office, no matter what party they belong to, could endorse these initiatives and pledge to support them legislatively if elected.

There are a lot of ways to skin a cat. California’s politically active citizens, from the grassroots to the pinnacles of political and economic power, need to recognize the opportunity that beckons.

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Edward Ring is a co-founder of the California Policy Center and served as its first president.

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