A friend recently asked me what I thought about the problems facing California. Here is my reply.
You have asked an interesting question regarding California. George Will has written several pieces on the problems which face California.
First it can be argued that it is in fact three states; Northern California; Purple California which is those areas that inland from the Pacific ocean and includes San Diego; and then Blue California from the Oregon border to LA (roughly the Coastal Highway) counties and cities (think Nancy Pelosi and Henry Waxman). Northern California is rural and is western in character, Purple California is both rural and urban and is moderate in outlook, and of course Blue California is liberal. The division within the state is reflected in the state house. Although Jerry Brown is part of Blue California he is going to have to govern to his largest base Purple California. See map below.
Second California suffers from too much democracy. One of the legacies of Hiram Johnson, the Progressive governor from the early 20th Century, is the ballot initiative. In an average election, California will have anything from 3 to 20 ballot initiatives. In the last election the most notable one was the legalization of marijuana. Over the last thirty years several initiatives have been passed which effectively tie the hands of both the Governor’s and legislature. The most famous one of course is Howard Jarvis’ Proposition 8 which hampers the adjustment of property taxes. Additional initiatives include one that requires that the budget be passed by a 2/3 vote of both houses of the legislature.
Third, as you alluded to the problem of generous benefits in which reasonable fiscal controls interfere with the god given rights of the employees, at least that is the line the Unions use.
Fourth, term limits have decimated the legislature, particularly in having experience in dealing with the long term budget issues.
I am not sure California is governable. To be governable some of the excesses of rampant democracy have to be contained. I am not sure how you do that. . .as there is a definite entitlement mentality in California.
Without the structural changes required, Jerry Brown may well find himself facing a recall election as did Gray Davis. I am not even sure that Ronald Reagan could govern California today.