03 November 2010

More American Graffiti In The Golden State

California did not catch the wave of the Tea Party.  Incumbent Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) beat Republican challenger Carly Fiorna by 9%.  The Golden State also returned Jerry Brown to California’s governor’s chair after an 18 year absence, beating GOP opponent Meg Whitman by over 12%.  Those are very impressive numbers, especially in an anti-incumbent wave election. With those results one might have thought that California would legalize marijuana, but Proposition 19 was defeated by 55.9% to 44.1%.

While it is tempting to invoke a Back to the Future (1985) metaphor, it is more appropos to allude to More American Graffiti (1979).  That was the sequel to American Graffiti (1973), George Lucas’ wildly successful cinematic paean to the carefree days in Modesto, California during the summer after high school graduation in 1962.  More American Graffiti is set several years afterwards where those carefree kids are thrust into grown up choices and the messiness of life during the tumultuous mid 1960s. Apologies to Ron Howard, but those were not your and my Happy Days (sic).

California is in serious debt.  The state owes $85 billion in long term debt and state spending and obligations to generous pension plans will only add to the figure. Governor-elect Brown does not have a plan to ameliorate the debt by itself, so it may declare bankruptcy and let all of America service those debt obligations.  That does not seem like a good idea when Washington is effectively broke.  Maybe the Federal Reserve can implement a QE3 and inflate the way out of California’s debt.  If Jerry Brown is going to govern rather than preside over the financial demise of the 7th largest economy in the world, he is going to face some difficult decisions. But based on his educate “undocumented aliens” at California colleges at all cost, it is dubious if Brown can do a real cost-benefit analysis to a limited income environment.

The official California unemployment rate is 12.4%, which is several percent above the national rate.  California has a heavy tax rate coupled by ever increasing alluvia of state regulations making the cost of business burdensome.  On top of that, a judicial ruling cutting off water rights to agriculture to help an endangered Snail Darter, which has consequentially turned the fecund Central Valley into the Dust Bowl.  It’s no wonder why there have been significant migrations of mobile middle class to neighboring states which is sometimes derided as Californication.

So the new Governor of California needs to bring jobs to the state.  While I do not want to re-argue an already settled election, Governor-elect Brown’s website stresses job gains through green jobs.  Really? That sounds wonderful at Cal-Berkeley bull sessions at the dorm. But the real life examples of Spain and Germany with green jobs shows the perilousness of that pipe dream.  And what about the California Mandate to make 2% of all California cars Zero Emission Vehicles by 1998?  GM rented the E.V.1 which were promptly destroyed after the 2 year lease.  So much for mandating immature technology on an economy.

In a moment of candor late in the campaign, Jerry Brown admitted that he did not have a plan the first time that he was governor and it is pretty clear that he does not have a real plan now.

As for Senator Barbara Boxer, her re-election strategy was the same as it ever was: run on the reproductive right for women to kill unwanted fetuses they are caring and attack your opponent. She may be the Lionness of Liberalism, but Boxer is legislatively timid, only authoring post office naming and ensuring insider deals that seem to enrich her scion when restoring an extinct  Indian tribe who wants to open a casino.  I only really expect hubris from SENATOR Boxer.

My view towards California’s electoral choices for Governor and Senator are epitomized by a later album by the Kinks “Give the People What They Want (Hope they get what they deserve)”.  More American Graffiti did not have a Hollywood happy ending, but perhaps we can hope for better things.

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