Robert Scheer: The Land of Milk and Honey Once More
The Land of Milk and Honey Once More
What's the matter with California? It is a question once asked about Kansas
when that state came to be viewed as a harbinger of a more conservative
America. But now the trend is quite opposite, the right wing is in retreat
and the Golden State is the progressive bellwether.
How is it that the state that incubated the presidencies of Richard Nixon
and Ronald Reagan is now so deep blue Democrat that Mitt Romney hardly
bothered to campaign there? Why did voters, including huge majorities in the
state's two wealthiest counties, approve a tax on high-income earners to
increase funding for public education?
The answer is that the shifting demographics of California, forerunners of
an inevitable national trend, are producing an American electoral majority
that is more culturally sophisticated, socially tolerant and supportive of a
robust public sector than can be accommodated by the simplistic naysayers
who now dominate the Republican Party.
The big news from the last election is that California, home to 12 percent
of Americans and the world's eighth-largest economy
<http://www.businessweek.com/ap/financialnews/D9JS1MLO0.htm> , is a model of
rational political thought. Not only did President Obama garner almost 60
percent of the vote there, but the Democrats who already controlled all
branches of the state's government gained a two-thirds supermajority in both
houses of the state Legislature, the first time one party has done so since
1933, when the Republicans were in power. The Democrats have not managed
such a feat since 1883.
Instead of voters rewarding the state's Republican Party for its
obstructionist tactics on any measure requiring a two-thirds vote, they
provided California's Democratic leadership with the votes needed to trump
limits on tax collection imposed by the infamous Proposition 13, which for
34 years had shortchanged the public sector of needed funding.
The resulting California vote was consistent with a national tendency that
The Wall Street Journal summarized in a headline: "Wall Street Took a
Beating at the Polls." The article cited the victories of populists in
Senate races including Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts and Sherrod Brown
in Ohio; voter approved increases in taxes in a number of states; and the
rejection by historically anti-tax New Hampshire of an amendment to the
state constitution that would have banned an income tax. But the example of
the Golden State was even more compelling:
"In California, home to 88 of the 400 wealthiest Americans, according to
Forbes, voters raised corporate taxes on businesses based out of state and
raised income taxes on the wealthiest residents. What's more, the measure,
which passed 53.9% to 46.1% statewide, received strong support in some of
the counties where those tax increases will sting. In San Mateo, the home of
Silicon Valley, the measure passed 63.2% to 36.8%. In Marin, where annual
income ranks in the top 20 of all U.S. counties, the margin was even higher,
68.2% to 31.8%."
So it isn't just brown and black or poorer voters, who are barely present in
those two counties, who explain the shift in the political outlook of
Californians as much as it is a notion of what a modern society requires for
its economic success and social stability. The key issue involved in that
tax initiative was funding for education, including the state's extensive
system of public higher education. A once robust collection of community
colleges, a network of excellent state universities and the internationally
admired University of California campuses will all benefit.
Even if one does not depend on that vast system for the education of one's
own progeny, and surely there are many who do, there was massive support
from the state's business leaders-as demonstrated by the Silicon Valley
vote-who recognize that education fuels productivity. A school term ending
in April-a possibility in some districts had the initiative not passed-would
not provide an adequate education for California's workforce.
It is refreshing to discover that not every super wealthy person need be a
shortsighted pig. That is one lesson from California voters, and it should
burnish the Golden State's reputation as an inspiration for the nation. It
helps that the cutting edge industries in the state, ranging from the older
world of entertainment to the newest of information technology, are
apparently more inclined to a progressive outlook than the entrenched
economic interests in some other states. Texas comes to mind.
But the Lone Star State will also change because of the far more important
demographic changes that affect both Texas and California even more than the
rest of the country. Recall that Texas Gov. Rick Perry ran into trouble in
the Republican primaries for suggesting that the education of undocumented
immigrants might contribute to our shared prosperity.
In California Gov. Jerry Brown deserves major credit for pushing through the
tax initiative by mobilizing younger and Latino voters to recognize that
their access to education was at stake. But the larger demographic shift in
the state reflects a national trend that carried Obama into the White House
As veteran California political writer Dan Walters of The Sacramento Bee put
it: "[The] election saw the emergence of a much different demographic
profile that, if it continues, permanently changes assumptions about our
politics. California's new electorate, derived from exit polling data, is
multiracial, younger, more liberal, not very religious and less likely to be
married with children. . The long reign of older white voters is coming to
an end. . "
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