The proverbial rain comes down
Yes, we’re in a serious drought, but in terms of policy and politics, California is stuck in a figurative torrent of biblical proportions.
As the old Southern folk song put it, “The rains came down, and the floods came up,” and for many, it’s not clear whether California was built on a foundation of sand or rock or if the state will stand firm as a republic or wash away.
Take the state Capitol, a comparable representation to the condition of California in her various formations over the years. Through the 1850’s, the legislature gaveled in session at several locations like Monterey, Benicia, San Jose and San Francisco, moving often because of poor planning, politics and adverse weather. The capitol ultimately ended up on a small promontory in Sacramento.
And in the 1860’s and 1870’s, the architecture and construction of the Capitol was without equal west of the Rockies. As the state grew and the legislature professionalized, the ornate aspe and Supreme Court chambers on the east side of the building were removed and replaced by larger, modern offices. Then about 40 years ago, according to the Capitol Museum historians, “A series of seismic reports in the 1970s condemned the Capitol’s structural integrity. Faced with the building’s inevitable condemnation, California and its leaders confronted the stark choice to either replace the Capitol with new structures or restore the original building.”
And so, over a period of 6 years and $67 million spent (about $190 million in today’s dollars), the Capitol was gutted, walls were reinforced and the entire building was literally put on jacks, and hoisted high enough to completely overhaul the foundation with thousands of tons of concrete. As the workers stripped layers of white paint off the interior walls, they discovered a beauty that was lost through the early 1900’s Progressive Era. Fortunately, artisans were able to carefully recapture the vision of a majestic building after withstanding the ravages of weather, politics and modernity, rededicating the building in 1982.
It’s impossible to measure how much the pandemic has either revealed our problems or simply stymied any efforts to address a broken statutory framework. Few would disagree that our problems are significant and the trillions of dollars spent over decades has done little to fix this crumbling state. Frustrated by the lack of a serious oppositional voice in the legislature, the Progressive movement that whitewashed our Capitol also provided the people with more ways to engage, via recalls, referendums, and ballot initiatives.
While this week’s exercise in direct democracy didn’t result in a leadership change like we saw in 2003, it provided guardrails to a power-hungry governor. Indeed, as the signatures piled up to hold Newsom accountable, one could see some correlation in the diminishing intensity of the state’s control over schools, businesses and personal autonomy.
The California Policy Center’s founders saw the many problems that plague our state and traced them back to an oversized government bureaucracy emboldened by entrenched public-sector unions and a failing public school system that doesn’t educate children in the way they need or deserve. These are the reasons so much of our work centers around educating government workers about their rights, exposing public-sector unions for the role they play in California’s demise, and supporting parents as they work to take back control of their children’s education
It’s not clear if the foundation for the state’s government is resilient enough to withstand the pressures and tremors of a disenchanted constituency. Did the very existence of the recent gubernatorial recall expose an erosion of the state government’s foundation? Are discontented voters going to pack their bags, sell their homes and follow so many expatriates who have already given up on California?
Only time will tell, but the California Policy Center and the robust grassroots network of parents, workers, and concerned Californians we work with each day aren’t going anywhere. California is worth fighting for, and that’s just what we’ll continue to do.
Lance Christensen is the Executive Vice President of the California Policy Center.