Sometimes, the Blue Dog would rather have someone else do the barking about the state of Moderate Nation. Some good mind chow in CNN.com’s “No One Represents America’s Center.”
Monthly Archives: May 2009
A Blue Dog reader with decades of experience inside the Capitol weighed in with another reform measure omitted in the 12 reforms mentioned in the last post. Here is what he says:
“I think a lot of the reforms you mentioned would be helpful, but the key reform we need is the open primary. Both of the parties are controlled by special interest groups so it is very difficult to win a partisan primary unless you are owned by them. At least an open primary gives moderates of both parties a real shot. It also helps make members from now safe districts a little more responsible since they could face a November election running against a member of their own party. A little fear and/or respect of the voters would further help the system.”
As the dust settles and legislators and the governor peer up and out of their foxholes, let’s hope they see the citizenry circulating petitions for gutsy reform initiatives. The system is broken and beyond repair. Time to tear down the entire house and build a new one from a new foundation up. So checking politics at the door, here are a dozen nakedly brash ideas — old and new — that should be on the table.
(1) Establish a Constitutional Convention that is not beholden, created or otherwise connected with the Legislature or Executive Branch. The recommendations of which would ultimately be put into a ballot initiative. Reform measures the convention should recommend and/or consider:
(2) Reducing the size of legislative districts, increasing number of legislators to achieve greater accountability (see earlier post)
(3) Eliminating term limits
(4) Weighing pros and cons of a part-time legislature
(5) Eliminating the two-thirds majority vote on budget matters
(6) Mandating a two-year budget cycle and level of rainy-day cash reserves
(7) Pegging expansion of state spending to inflation or another reasonable benchmark level; maybe tacking on a few percentage points; but basically establishing strict spending limits coupled with a mechanism for flexibility
(8) Examining the evisceration of all sacred cows, especially Prop. 13 and Prop. 98
(9) Investigating what responsibilities and funding should be returned to local governments, which are by definition closer to the people they serve
(10) Mulligans. As naive as it may be, we need to find a way to get out from under expensive contactual obligations and mandated funding for programs. Can an initiative wipe the slate clean so we can start with a clean slate — i.e. – renegotiating everything in terms of benefits, salaries, services, etc.?
(11) Requiring a boot camp for new legislators prior to assuming office so they aren’t learning the basics on the job
(12) Creating a legislative process that isn’t a joke. Specifically we need to ensure exhaustive discussion of complex issues. Too many times we see enormously critical decisions made with just “two minutes for each side” to present their positions in policy committees. This is an insult to the democratic process and irresponsible. Californians deserve better.
The Blue Dog totally gets the latest spasm of voter anger. But it’s not enough anymore to simply stew. Let’s do something titanic and constructive with all the vitriol at our disposal. Let’s reinvent the business of government from the ground up.
The worse things get, the more we apparently rely on humor to survive. The fallout from yesterday’s vote and sudden momentum pushing California’s death spiral into oblivion has brought about an unexpectedly large dose of humor from several anonymous CalBlueDog readers. One offered some creative ways to generate revenue. Another a way to make difficult cuts. Another sent along a photo capturing some of yesterday’s carnage. Yes the sky is falling, but we might as well chuckle before it crashes down on our heads:
*Revenue from Naming Rights: “The Legislature ought to start selling ad space and naming rights in the Capitol and at the various state agencies to raise money.” Here are some ideas:
– The Cache Creek State Capitol Dome (with Neon Sign instead atop for an extra Billion) . . . The Kaiser-Permanente Department of of Public Health . . . The Chevron Department of Conservation . . . the Waste Management Integrated Waste Management Board . . . The Pfizer Assembly Committee on Health . . . The ACLU Assembly Committee on Public Safety . . . The Senate Judiciary Committee brought to you by the California Correctional Peace Officers Association . . . The Toyota Air Resources Board . . . The Sierra Club Senate Committee on Environmental Safety & Toxic Materials . . . The CTA Assembly Committee of Education . . . The SEIU Senate Labor & Industrial Relations Committee . . . The Disney Assembly Committee on Water, Parks & Wildlife . . . The State Farm Assembly Committee on Insurance . . . the Wells Fargo Senate Committee on Banking, Finance & Insurance . . .
Budget Cuts from Survivor Alcatraz: Another reader suggests taking all state agency and department heads and putting them on Alcatraz Island, where they must fend for themselves, their departments and make a case for their respective programs. Arnold’s Hollywood friends can produce the episodes pro bono and Californians can tune in to make the hard decisions by voting programs and public servants off the island. We can follow it up with a Series: Survivor: Catalina involving legislators. The state could reap millions in TV broadcast revenue from advertisers; if the program goes nationwide, we get the royalties.
Eyewitness to Carnage: Finally, this photo came over the transom.
While the shot unfairly singles out Senator Steinberg, the Blue Dog imagines there are plenty more boats sinking with other names, including a large vessel called the S.S. Capitol. The Blue Dog thanks his readers, and welcomes more antics as he gears up for more serious fare . . . “The dogs bark, but the caravan moves on.”
They say takers eat well, but givers sleep well. Maybe it’s time we start focusing more on our sleep.
Given the enormity of the challenges facing California, it is easy to become fatalistic and cynical. The problems are so daunting and our leadership so dysfunctional that it leaves us feeling totally helpless and impotent. Perhaps we should adapt a new personal survival strategy: downsize our expectations of government/others and demand more from ourselves.
Yeah, its easy to rail on the status quo and bark for reform. The BlueDog will continue to howl, attracting a growing cadre of like-minded California moderates in the process. But for today, let’s focus on pointing the finger at ourselves. What can we do to improve our own little corners of the world? The people we encounter as we go about our lives? How can we assume more personal responsibility for our fellow man?
There are a zillion things we can do that don’t involve giving money or too much of your time:
* Donate clothes, furniture and appliances to charities. Donations are down and demand is up at local thrifts.
* Spend some time talking to a friend or acquaintance who has lost a job. Ask what you can do to help.
* Be a considerate driver
* Turn off the Blackberry and spend genuine time with your kid.
* Stop cursing.
* Instead of scorn, indifference or subsidizing an addiction with loose change, look a homeless person in the eye and say hello. Better yet, extend yourself and buy him or her a sandwich.
* Pick up somebody else’s litter or trash.
* And because the BlueDog can’t resist: Maybe we should call for a freeze on all pending legislation for a year. In the meantime, requiring all legislators and their staffs to leave the Capitol so they can apply all their state-paid time to doing something tangible and meaningful in their communities — instead of being marginalized by a process that encourages division, problem-creation, mediocrity and gridlock. One would think that a more gratifying application of public service.
If we did any one of these things every day, California’s collective soul might lift us out of the morass in some weird, cosmic way. At the very least, we would all sleep a bit better . . . even as California burns itself to the ground.
“Give Me Men to Match My Mountains,” begs a caption chiseled into a building across from the State Capitol. It’s a majestic call for leadership from another, less cynical era. Here’s something more apt for today: “Give Me Men & Women to Build Our Mole Hills.”
From all quarters, the inane seems to be the only arsenal available to our elected officials: To wit: Sacramento County Supervisor Roger Dickinson, who thinks the critical issue of our time centers on banning plastic bags – a plank in a platform he obviously thinks will catapult him into the state Assembly next year. Way to go Roger, you probably do belong in the Legislature, a place where every day seems disproportionately focused on playing trival pursuit on the malodorous tongue of a frothing, volatile multi-headed leviathan known as the budget crisis, health care crisis, unemployment crisis, homeless crisis, education crisis . . .
But those matters can wait while our elected officials dicker around with things like Assembly Bill 68 (Brownley), which seeks to impose a 25-cent tax on plastic shopping bags. Proponents trot out “Bag Man” at news conferences where they twist facts like taffy. A preponderance of science and research shows plastic bags to be a non issue. There is even a strong case to be made they actually are better for the environment than paper (note earlier posting here and again full disclosure that the Blue Dog has performed consulting work for firms that produce plastic bags and packaging materials).
The BlueDog- an avid recycler – is old enough to remember when paper bags were evil because they were made by raping our forests. But who the hell cares about historical perspective? Or pesky details associated with life cycle analysis, consumer choice, financial impact on shoppers or the Legislature’s abrupt abortion of its nascent plastic bag recycling program?
This is, after all, California, land of endless opportunity to do something well-meaning, but ultimately amounting to a public policy mole hill. Someone should scratch at beneath the surface in search of motivations. Frustration on the part of our elected officials at their own self-evident impotence in solving what truly matters? A desire to distract us from reality? Control issues? Or is it something less cosmic and more base, like greed?
If you read the fine print of AB 68, you’ll see a provision that allows grocery stores and retailers to keep 5 cents for each bag they tax. Wow. The bag itself probably costs less than a penny. Bag bashers like Dickinson and Brownley claim “19 billion” plastic bags are sold annually. So if we do the math, that’s a $4.75 Billion reach into the pockets of Californians — of that, about a Cool Billion will go to grocery stores and retailers. Can they possibly need that kind of jack to administer the program? In an industry with razor thin profit margins, it’s no wonder their associations are on board with measure. Seems like an incentive to push more bags.
The winners in this game of trivial pursuit certainly aren’t average Californians, who have bigger worries on their minds and loftier expectations of their elected officials. Where is our Sir Edmund Hillary? Where are our fearless, dutiful Sherpas?