Wrong-Headed Call to Action

As an example of how California's elites totally misunderstand what's wrong with the state, it would be hard to improve upon the new group "Govern for California."

This group is backed by three Californians -- including former Schwarzenegger advisor David Crane -- who think the state's troubles are the results of a lack of unwillingness by state lawmakers to be courageous and vote against the interests of their party. 

So they will set up a web site to chart legislative behavior and support candidates who show courage -- by voting against the interests of people who elected them.

If that sounds like alchemy, it is.

Democratic legislative systems around the world are organized by party, and that requires loyalty -- or at least a confining of disagreements to the internal party.

But these guys are rich and smart, and they are quoting Edmund Burke -- "for evil to happen all that's necessary is for good people to do nothing" reads the group's letter -- so presumably they're about to change world history.

Once they're done, presumably they'll suspend gravity, turn water into wine, and make San Francisco sunny 365 days a year.

This is so wrong-headed that it's hard to know where to begin.

So let's start with a simple point: the absence of compromise on big fiscal issues -- namely taxes -- doesn't represent a lack of courage, or a failure for partisan legislators to serve the people.

It actually reflects the popular will -- polls show that the public has grown more partisan and uncompromising.

When voters tell pollsters they want compromise, what they mean is that they want the other party to compromise with representatives of their own party.

It's always nice when other guy surrenders, after all. Voters want their own party to stand firm on principle.

Voters, even nominally independent ones, are party animals.

You object?

Ask yourself two questions: Do you know the name of the Assembly candidate you voted for in last year's elections? Do you know the party of the Assembly candidate you voted for?

If you're like most people, the answers to those questions would be no and yes, because most people vote for the party. They don't know who the candidates are.

This is good news, because parties provide ways for citizens to engage in politics even if they don't have the money to fund a group like "Govern for California."

California has weak parties and weak engagement. So instead of trying to promote supposed acts of "courage" and party disloyalty, reform should strengthen parties -- while making it easier to hold them accountable for mistakes by kicking them out of office.

California, however, has a broken budget and governing system that encourages irresponsible behavior by parties because it demands compromise in uncompromising times.

Changing that system to reflect partisan realitiies would improve governance and accountability. That's hard work, but it's possible. Throwing up money and a web site to encourage betrayal of party is a strategy that can't possibly work.

The group has performed one public service. By showing that wealthier Californians have enough money to throw away on nonsensical schemes like this, "Govern for California" makes a very strong case for raising taxes on the rich.

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