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Where's the May 20 Strategy?

by: Robert Cruickshank

Sat Apr 18, 2009 at 12:21:39 PM PDT


Yesterday David Dayen wrote about the letter Karen Bass and Darrell Steinberg sent to CDP delegates asking them to endorse Props 1A-1F at next weekend's convention. I found it striking that they felt the need to contact delegates about this, and it clearly suggests they've seen the grassroots rebellion within the party against the May 19 propositions.

As a CDP delegate myself I expect to be in the thick of the endorsement battle in Sacramento, and as a member of the Calitics Editorial Board I plan to support our "no on everything" endorsement at the convention.

That being said, I don't agree with the increasingly negative attacks being levied at Speaker Bass and Senator Steinberg in the comments to David's post. They are both good progressives who have been backed into a corner by the severity of the economic crisis and the Zombie Death Cult's desire to see this state go over the cliff. I don't agree with how they handled that tough spot but I have no doubt they believe they've made the choices that were necessary for the welfare of everyone in this state.

I've had the chance to talk with Speaker Bass at some length about the May 19 propositions and she is passionate about the need to bring some revenue to the budget to stave off worse cuts. Again, I disagree with the way she's looking at this - these propositions are going to worsen the long-term budget mess, ensuring that ugly cuts will be made, whether it's in 2009 or 2013 or 2015 - but her position is understandable.

And yet she is not winning the argument. Democratic clubs across the state are either rejecting the package outright or are endorsing one or two of the initiatives with great reluctance and only after a considerable lobbying effort. There is no enthusiasm at all for these proposals among most Democrats and progressives, even those who endorse them.

This is due to several factors: the inherent problems with the proposals, the lack of trust and faith in Democratic leaders, the lack of a long-term strategy, and terrible framing. All of these are related. As David Dayen has repeatedly demonstrated, the chief selling point of the initiatives by Democratic electeds is fear. Fear that unless we hold our noses and approve these inherently conservative proposals (Prop 1B being the only one that might not be fundamentally right-wing in nature) Californians will suffer, that schools and health care and local governments will be made to pay the price of balancing the budget.

What that demonstrates is the deeper problem - there is no May 20 strategy coming from the Sacramento Democrats. They aren't offering any kind of plan for what happens the day after the election. And they need to, because win or lose, the state will still face a multibillion deficit on May 20.

Of particular concern is the fact that few if any Democratic legislators seem to be planning to fight the concept of budget cuts or to fight for wealth taxes. In the conversations I've had with Assemblymembers and Senators and their staffers on the May 19 election, they almost all argue that horrifying cuts are an inevitability if the May 19 props fail. They don't seem interested in, or confident in their ability to, mobilize the people of California against Republican efforts to destroy our government, to mobilize voters for saving schools, hospitals, buses, and jobs.

It might have been possible to mobilize some of  the Democrats and progressives who oppose the May 19 props to support them, despite the fact they represent bad public policy - if they had any confidence that there was a clear May 20 strategy. That strategy would have to show how the Dems will resist Republican demands for cuts,  to move the ball forward on the 2/3 rule and wealth taxes, and to provide economic growth.

But there has been no such strategy offered, not now, and really not at any time since 1978. These ballot propositions are sadly typical of the product of the Democratic legislature over the last 30 years - a slightly less wingnutty set of proposals that Democrats feel obligated to support, and that they insist we become a party to by ratification at the ballot box. If the grassroots had any confidence that the Democratic legislature had a clear and compelling plan to fight for progressive budget solutions, more of them might be willing to reluctantly back the initiatives as a necessary evil. (To be clear, I do not count myself among this number, and I cannot imagine a scenario where I would support 1A or 1C-1F.)

What is happening is that Democratic and progressive grassroots activists, joined by a number of prominent progressive organizations (from labor unions like CNA to good government organizations like the League of Women Voters), are rejecting the entire way of thinking that went into the May 19 proposals.

The current crisis is the product of too much short-term conservative-lite solutions. No matter what happens on May 19, we will be confronted with the same basic crisis on May 20. It is long past time for us to articulate progressive proposals, educate the public on their value and the problems with conservative "solutions," and organize voters to enact them.

That is what the opponents of the May 19 initiatives are saying. Perhaps we will have to produce a May 20 strategy ourselves.

Robert Cruickshank :: Where's the May 20 Strategy?
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May 20 (0.00 / 0)
  It should be obvious what the strategy to follow is:  

Props go down in May

Democrats pass majority rule fee increase

Reps refuse to vote for budget with "illegal" revenues

Dems in the meantime have qualified an initiative changing 2/3rds to majority (it's in the works, so qualify it)

Schwarz calls a special in September/October to pass the 2/3rds.  If it passes, the state functions.  If it doesn't,
Reps have their way and state guts health, education, etc.

The important thing to note is even if this doesn't work we are where we are now--with the Reps calling the shots.
Why don't we at least try, for once, to stand up for the little guy?

 (Some have asked why Schwartz would call a special.  Well, you can start a recall against him which would force a special--just the threat would be enough, because he hates losing at the box office).


all kinds of true (5.00 / 1)
I debated Asm. Mike Feuer today on the ballot measures at the PDLA meeting.  (PDLA went NO on all of them)

Again, there was a lot about the consequences of failure, nothing about the consequences of success.  And I feel for Feuer, and discern that he is genuinely conflicted by this, but doesn't see another way.  And someone at the meeting called this the "Stockholm syndrome," though I'd just characterize it as a failure of imagination.  The lack of a May 20 strategy is glaring, as well as a failure to come to terms with the reforms needed that would actually reverse the situation.

Feuer argued for repealing 2/3 for budget and taxes, specifically calling a budget-only approach a "disaster."  He's generally a good progressive.  But he would rather spend valuable time adding this layer of budget dysfunction instead of foregrounding the strategy needed to bring California back.  And the grassroots, quite simply, has had it.  They are starving for leadership in this area.


Feuer is compromised (5.00 / 1)
I have the misfortune to live in his district.  When he first ran for Assembly in 2006, he took his wife with him everywhere, introducing her and having her speak.  The problem is that his wife is a judge and it is unethical for judges to appear at partisan campaign events, even if the candidate is one's spouse.

In addition, the legislature (over the President's Day weekend) just ordered Los Angeles County to pay an extra $50,000 in salary to each and every judge in Los Angeles County.  They were attempting to overturn a Court of Appeal case that found that the paymentswere unconstitutional.  (None of the judges disclosed these extra payments on their reporting forms.)  The legislature passed this piece of garbage during a special session.  That's a no-no unless the legislation is specifically mentioned in the call of the Governor forcing the special session.  (It was not.)

So Feuer was collecting money illegally from the county through his wife (community property) and now is continuing to get that money.  He is embarrassing and corrupt.


"THINGS TO DO" LIST for legislators (0.00 / 0)
1. Close the corporate loopholes that allow corporations operating in California to send their profits elsewhere and avoid paying CA taxes.
2. Void the corporate tax breaks that were part of the budget package this year.
3. Pass a oil severance tax like so many other states already have.
4. Take a PAY CUT yourselves. Antonio Villaraigosa (remember him?) advocates no raises and a 3% cut for teachers. I just think that 3% of your $130,000 would be a lot more and would hurt you a lot less.
5. Re-visit the application of Prop 13 on the commercial properties. It was never meant to cover them in the first place. It was for HOMEOWNERS who were in danger of losing their homes due to the rapidly escalating taxes at that time.
6. CUT the allocation to the governor's staff. He has way too many highly paid aides who COMMUTE at state expense. And whatever happened to the prohibition on double dipping? Many are being paid by the state AND by his political campaign funds, I hear.
7. REFORM the initiative process. Require all initiatives to be on the general state or federal elections and NOT on the tiny turnout special elections.
8. Require that all initiatives that involve budgeting be sent through the legislature FIRST and that there be a legal judgment by the court that it is constitutional BEFORE it's sent for signatures.
9. Prison system reform. Have the guts to finally get rid of the three strikes law. It was MEANT to apply to serious offenders, particularly violent crimes. It's application on minor offenses has ballooned to prison population.
10. Decriminalize drugs...even Blue Dog Jim Webb is speaking out for this now. Can't we get someone in our state legislature to understand this concept too?

PLEASE everyone, add onto this list. We need to get these deer out of the headlights.


Adding to list (6.00 / 2)
11. Reinstitute California Estate Tax, fully deductible from Federal Estate Tax, to yield 1.2 billion per year. (Assumes freeze of federal estate taxes at current level, with no further increases in exemptions, and no elimination of estate taxes.)

12. Change annual increase in prop 13 basis from 2% to 3.3% or some other number. ( Compounding of large numbers has amazing effects over time, and this might be more politically palatable than eliminating prop 13.)

13. Restore car tax to 2% of value, including commercial vehicles.

14. Raise gas tax significantly.

15. Institute port fees on all cargo passing through California ports with money dedicated to paying externalized costs.

16. Change utility tariffs to encourage more and larger local solar installations.

17. Broaden state sales tax base to include entertainment, golf, personal services. Especially golf!



OC Progressive is Gus Ayer, former Fountain Valley Council member.  


[ Parent ]
Great lists (0.00 / 0)
Although I'm surprised nobody has yet mentioned:

18. At minimum restore the Wilson-Reagan upper income tax brackets, and consider going much higher.

Wealth taxes need to be a centerpiece of the budget solution and a long-term strategy to provide stable government revenues.

You can check out any time you like but you can never leave


[ Parent ]
THANKS much. I knew late last night that I was only touching a few (0.00 / 0)


[ Parent ]
Why #4? (0.00 / 0)
As I said to smoker1 below, pay cuts aren't sound public policy, and cutting legislators' and mayors' pay will do hardly anything to resolve big budget crises.

You can check out any time you like but you can never leave

[ Parent ]
Symbolic at best... (0.00 / 0)
...but a way for them to actually share a little bit of what their constituents are feeling can't hurt. But, no, it won't cure the budget problems.

[ Parent ]
"the lack of trust and faith in Democratic leaders" (0.00 / 0)
Truer words you could not have written.  This is the key problem now for the state party.

On the national level, we're beginning to see a change in the character of the Democratic Party, and the payoff has been striking.  After beating the grassroots down with sticks in 2004 and losing, the national party started to work to revive state parties, and as much as folks like Rahm Emanuel and others may have feared it, having Dean and folks like him take over the national party was not handing the asylum over to the inmates: it led to the victories in the Congressional elections of 2006 and 2008, and it made Obama's victory possible and even likely.

The state party hasn't gotten the memo.  Not even now.

Having spent the last four years pissing on its grassroots activists, the electeds need and want help, and very simply, there is not a chance in hell of them getting it.  Karma's come to roost, and the Great Wheel is going to crush these initiatives.

I hope you people totally kill any endorsement of the initiatives at the convention, I really do.  First and foremost on the merits, since Calitics is right to just say "vote 'em all down".  But also because it's a slap in the face to the elected wing of the party in California, which is not going to get a clue until forced.  Here's the opportunity to do exactly that.


It will be interesting (0.00 / 0)
To see what happens at the convention. My guess is most of the props will get a Yes endorsement, with Prop 1A being the one that has the best chance of the party either remaining neutral or outright making a No endorsement.

You can check out any time you like but you can never leave

[ Parent ]
Progressive taxes, progressive pay cuts (0.00 / 0)
If additional taxes are necessary, they MUST be more progressive.  Regressive tax hikes in a recession is just stupid.

I would also support a progressive pay cut.  For government workers making more than $200,000 per year, their pay is cut 20%.  $100,000 per year, 10% cut.  Make it a sliding scale.


Pay cuts (0.00 / 0)
Really ought to be avoided at all costs, same with layoffs. If balancing the budget is the goal, then those will seem like good things to do. But if economic recovery is the goal, those things must not be done.

Currently the legislature is emphasizing balanced budgets over economic recovery. Part of that is because they legally have little other choice, and part of it is the 2/3 rule, but we shouldn't let that justify bad economic policy.

You can check out any time you like but you can never leave


[ Parent ]
This came up (0.00 / 0)
yesterday.  I think going forward that the feds need to look into building a permanent budget stabilization fund that can help state governments deficit spend, with some requirements attached to the money.  Then we really can talk about bold experimentation like single payer at the state level.

However, let's not kid ourselves that the legislature balanced the budget.  The lottery borrowing is a form of deficit spending, by pushing the deficits off into future years.



[ Parent ]
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