| 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.