19 May 2009


It's Election Day, again, here in California. This is the second election day this year and there will be a third in November, if by some miracle a fourth doesn't somehow crop up between now and then.

It will also be a miracle if the turnout for this election exceeds, oh, say, 14 percent.

I'm all in favor of democracy. I think of all the stupid ways to run a country, it's generally the most benign. And I have yet to hear of any actual smart ways to run a country.

But here in California, democracy has been sorely tested and has been, in some ways, found wanting.

You see, any fuckwit with a clipboard, a ream of paper, some pens and a few bucks for a filing fee can, through the initiative and referendum process, attempt to put whatever the hell they want on the California state ballot. Collect enough signatures and you can force an election on even the most idiotic, narrow-focused, short-sighted, self-interested inanities.

If I want to have myself declared the "Honorary King of California," and paid a million bucks a year by the state, I can go stand around in front of supermarkets with my petitions. Collect enough signatures, and it's on the ballot. If there's a small enough voter turnout when election day rolls around, and I can mobilize the people who want me to be "Honorary King of California" or think it's funny enough that they'll vote for it, I might just win.

Well, that's what's been happening for quite some time. Year after year, a tiny minority of eligible voters in California have been passing this, that or the other entitlement program or bond measure or spending bill that mandates more or less spending.

One estimate is that only about eight percent of the budget of the State of California can be spent in whatever way the legislature deems necessary to deal with the State's specific needs in any given year.

There isn't much flexibility in that. And now, with the economic crisis on hand, budgets need to be able to bend with the gale force winds, or they'll break. And California's has snapped.

So today, here in California, some tiny fraction of the electorate will vote on six ludicrously complex and massively flawed state measures intended to prevent an even greater economic catastrophe than has already struck.

I will vote yes on them. Not because I like them, or even think they are good ideas, but only because I am fearful of the more massive calamity that will strike my state if they don't pass. I say, if you have a choice between being hit by a 60 foot high tsunami or a 50 foot high one, try to save yourself that extra 10 feet of grief.

But at the very best, even if somehow these measures do alleviate some of the pain and suffering to come, they are only stop gap measures.

The real problem in California is democracy, or at least the sort that we practice here. The sort that has allowed the inmates to run this asylum for enough years that trouble is inevitable, and inevitably more troublesome than it might have been otherwise. Initiative and referendum look good on paper, but they bear a lot of the responsibility for what got us into this mess.

1 comment:

Kurt Taylor said...

Couldn't agree with you more. However, let's include under the heading of 'inmates in the asylum'; unions, Sacramento types who hide in the NorCal capitol under what is essentially a press-blackout, lobbyists, bureacrats and grifters (who can tell the difference?) and not limit this grab-bag of political loonies to only those standing in front of supermarkets.
And I'd sign the petition to annoint you as King of California. But only for a year.