California at Cliff's Edge

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A week from Tuesday, we have to decide whether California takes a bungee jump without a cord.

The May 19 special election is probably on nobody's radar unless you orbit within the closed universe of Sacramento politics and issue advocacy. I may be exaggerating to boost electoral turnout and column readership ... but the outcome of this election could mean the difference between your house burning down or not. Let me explain.

We're being asked to vote on six specific propositions that were born of the unholy union of Democrats, the governor and a lone Republican (Abel Maldonado) in the Legislature. In order to close the yawning chasm that is our $42 billion budget deficit, a deal was cobbled together that, as Assembly Speaker Karen Bass appropriately said, "has something for everybody to hate."

If you're a Democrat, you hate this deal because it caps future spending, further hobbling a budget process that already is in legislative chains. You hate that we have to steal from designated funds for kids and the mentally ill just to cover our budgetary ass.

If you're a Republican, you hate this deal because it's larded with your nemesis: higher taxes. You might hate Ahnold even more for talking a whole lot of anti-tax smack, but then going along with the Democrats in raising the sales tax and vehicle license fee.

If you're an independent, you hate this deal because you don't believe legislators know how to put their pants on in the morning, let alone propose a smart way of dealing with a financial crisis.

This deal has taken some serious body blows in the past few weeks-including at the recent Democratic convention, where the rank-and-file in the party couldn't even muster the 60 percent vote needed to endorse three propositions. This is the Democrats' own deal, and they have a neutral position on half of it!

What this all means is that these propositions are going down hard, and so will the state. You don't believe me? On Tuesday a "leaked" Schwarzenegger Plan B (if the measures fail) called for cutting $80.8 million from Cal Fire's spending plan (a 10 percent reduction). That means about 1,700 fewer firefighters. Better upgrade your garden hose.

You can argue about the fine print, but a "No" vote on the measures sends only one statement: "Never mind that we voted for you-legislators, we think you're incompetent." Direct democracy has a long tradition in California, and it will always be part of the system. But it was never intended to be a parliamentary-like vote of no confidence on the entire legislature. We already have another way to hold legislators accountable-it's called reelection.

If we send these measures packing, it will be the worst kind of backseat legislating, and it will not get us a better deal. It's likely to either bankrupt the state or result in Draconian cuts in services. It's OK to hate your legislator, but please don't burn the poor, kids and old people who need services to express that hatred.

* * *

In the game of Vegas-style political predictions, most pundits are betting on the "Woman" space on the wheel for the next justice of the Supreme Court. Should we be making picks based on ethnicity and sex? Probably not. But you can make a decent argument that eight white guys plus one frail lady don't really represent the interests and thinking of the entire country. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the lone woman on the court who has suffered from health problems recently, will probably leave before Obama's second term ends. So picking a female replacement now seems an obvious choice. Sonia Sotomayor-a Latina federal appeals judge who grew up in the Bronx-is leading the pack today. But frontrunners often don't finish first, so expect a surprise.

* * *

The Proposition 8 decision is due in the next three weeks. Most who watched the arguments back in March are saying that the ban on gay marriage will stand. Even if Proposition 8 supporters win this battle, they will ultimately lose the war. All the trends in public opinion polls and the Northeast states' trendsetting court decisions and legislative acts have foreshadowed this. Here's an idea for those who believe it is their destiny to protect the institution of marriage from the sinners: Take all of that money, all of that effort and passion, and offer some free day care for hetero parents who are having marriage trouble. God wants you to reduce the divorce rate, not punish gay people.

Tags: COLUMN, JOSH GREEN


Avert California's doom on May 19 at [email protected]



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