Poor governance, beginning long before the bungled response to the COVID-19 pandemic, has led to a recall campaign that may very well put California Governor Newsom into a fight for his political life in the Spring of 2021. If a suitable challenger emerges to replace Newsom, he could end up in well deserved political exile. But what’s happening in California today is bigger than Newsom’s failures as a governor, and it’s bigger than any single politician who may replace him.
Across several areas of policy, the Democratic party, led by Gavin Newsom, has not merely alienated, but enraged millions of Californians. The key to political realignment in California is not only to offer these groups a political agenda that incorporates solutions to all their grievances, but does so in a manner so coherent, so practical, and so promising, that a common solidarity is generated which transcends all the ways California’s ruling class has thus far divided them.
The groups that can come together to transform California and change its political landscape fall into four obvious groups, with potential allies in other groups. The four core groups are parents of children going to public schools in low income communities, small business owners throughout California, residents of farming and logging communities, and religious conservatives who are mostly Christian but include Sikhs, Moslems, and others.
Grassroots opposition to Newsom’s Democratic party in California is only consistently found among farming communities, small business owners, and religious conservatives. It’s not enough to ever win a statewide contest. Hard core populist support for Democrats in California comes primarily from millions of white liberals, living in inherited homes, who pay minimal property taxes and are hence immune from the consequences of an out-of-control public sector bureaucracy, along with the government employees that work in that bureaucracy. The critical swing constituency, currently solidly in the Democratic camp, are black, Latino, and Asian voters.
Guiding the agenda of California’s Democrats are a ruling elite, small in number, but wielding incredible power. Among these elites are government union leaders, liberal billionaires from Hollywood to the Silicon Valley, extreme environmentalists, and the social justice vanguard. The money and influence these elites bring to California politics cannot possibly be matched by the opposition. But all the money in the world cannot make up for the fact that their policies have made life miserable for millions of ordinary Californians.
Unifying the Alienated Constituencies
Lowering the cost of housing and energy will have strong appeal to every Californian household that is at or below the median income. It will also appeal to small business owners who pay high rents, have high utility bills, and have to support a workforce that needs to afford California’s high cost-of-living. For starters, this means keeping Diablo Canyon open, keeping California’s natural gas grid intact, and requiring renewable electricity providers to guarantee an uninterrupted year-round supply of energy, and price those true costs into their competitive bids to the utilities. It also means reversing draconian zoning mandates that have drawn boundaries around California’s urban areas and prevented them from growing outward.
School choice will appeal to California’s approximately 4.0 million households with school age children. School vouchers will have universal appeal among households at all income levels, since middle income homeowners that want to avoid public schools will no longer have to pay twice – once through property taxes for the public schools, then also via tuition for the private school. Needless to say, turning the entire public school system on its head and breaking the teachers’ union monopoly would earn the enthusiastic support of religious conservatives, who are thoroughly fed up with some of the nonsense that passes for education in California’s public schools.
Restoring appropriate laws to discourage public intoxication, petty theft and vagrancy, combined with spending public funds on cost-effective homeless shelters in less expensive parts of cities, could end California’s homeless crisis in a few months. Californians living and suffering in the midst of this debacle only need to make their voices heard, and the inexplicable public support for idiots like the newly elected Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascon will evaporate overnight.
California’s farming and logging communities do not have the numerical clout of its small business community or its households with children, but the issues they are passionate about are issues that affect every Californian. Farmers want more water. Loggers want to see a revival of the timber industry. And the infrastructure projects necessary to create water abundance would benefit all Californians, just as the revival of the timber industry would thin the overgrown forests and prevent additional summers where half the state is blanketed in killer smoke.
A unifying political alternative to California’s current Democratic agenda would borrow from what California’s Democrats used to represent. Back in the Governor Pat Brown era, Democrats genuinely supported big infrastructure. They completed the most extensive system of dams and aqueducts in the world. They built a magnificent network of freeways. They built the finest public university in the world. And they did all of it cost-effectively and projects only took few years from concept to completion.
It will be interesting to see if the Biden presidency delivers on his campaign theme of “Build Back Better.” Pragmatists in California, regardless of party, realize there could soon be a torrent of federal money coming into California. But where will it go? Will it repair the dams and aqueducts and build new ones? Will it resurface and widen the freeways? Or will it be used to prop up bloated public sector budgets and accomplish next to nothing?
Apart from federal pork, Californians who want to live in a business friendly, affordable state with good K-12 education options and responsible forest management probably cannot expect much from the Biden administration. But if Californians themselves demand these reforms, they can transform the Democratic party, or destroy it, both in California and nationally.
In any case, it may not be Republicans that lead the political realignment of California. Any group of politicians that will express these reforms clearly and coherently can marshal a new and unbeatable coalition. Under the unifying theme of a pragmatic, comprehensive agenda, politicians can run without the support of any party and they can win. Build enabling infrastructure. Open up more land for residential and commercial development. Fix the schools. Thin the forests. Roll back overdone, punitive, job-killing regulations. Enforce necessary laws to preserve public order. Stand up to the fanatics and the opportunists that have been blocking these common sense measures for decades.
That message will attract a supermajority of California’s voters. It is an inspiring agenda embracing optimism and hope, liberty and prosperity, and it benefits everyone.