The esteemed satirist Kinky Friedman once expressed his dismal opinion of his state’s conservative lawmakers this way: “How can you look at the Texas legislature and still believe in intelligent design?” For California conservatives, however, Friedman’s wisecrack echoes their view of Democrat-dominated Sacramento: How can you look at the California legislature and still believe in evolution?
Putting aside the delicate theological question of whether Earth is 6,000 or 4.5 billion years old, the opening of the Capitol’s new session offers a case study of how the two political worldviews shape the day-to-day lives of Californians.
DOGS AND CATS, LIVING TOGETHER: “When you look at all of the nanny state laws being proposed in Sacramento,” said Jon Fleischman, political editor of the right-wing Breitbart California news site, “you really have to wonder how we ever have lead civilized lives up until this time.”
Because 2015 is the nonelection year of the Legislature’s two-year session, personal-attack campaigning is mostly dormant, providing a clearer view of the basic policy argument at the heart of American politics: the rights of the individual versus the power of the state.
Conservatives lament that the state has thoroughly trounced the individual in that contest. To illustrate, some issues currently driving right-wingers crazy:
• Cheerleaders: A former cheerleader, Democratic Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez wants public schools to declare cheerleading an official sport. The move could have far-reaching effects on existing school athletic programs and lead to litigation over Title IX, the federal law governing gender equality. Her agenda also includes a bill to require NFL teams to treat their cheerleaders as employees with salary and benefits.
• Smoking: A proposed Assembly bill would raise, from 18 to 21, the minimum age for tobacco use, while a senate measure would outlaw electronic cigarette smoking in public. “It’s funny that the politicians in Sacramento have nothing better to do with their time,” a smoking-rights group advocate told the L.A. Times. “When you are 18 you are an adult and you get to do what you want.”
• Dogs and cats: The Humane Society recently celebrated California as the nation’s number one state for its protections of wild, agricultural, and domesticated animals, a distinction that antigovernment conservatives find dubious. Deep in Brown’s budget, a Sacramento Bee reporter identified $6 million worth of funding to govern the lives of what he termed “Fido and Fluffy,” including $150,000 from the Pet Lover’s License Plate Program.
• Gas prices: Global market maneuvers have led to cheap gas prices, but Republicans and business argue they are temporary and mask a tax increase mandated by Democrats to finance California’s landmark climate-change law. GOP lawmakers previously tried and failed to block the tax but might have more luck if prices spike.
• Yoga class: State Senator Bob Hertzberg, D-L.A., is pushing legislation to impose state sales taxes on professional services, such as corporate legal bills, but Brown and conservative lawmakers worry about unintended consequences: “Taxing new people is always difficult,” the governor told reporters. “If you tell people that their Pilates class will be taxed at 8.5 percent, they may not be as yoga-happy as they were before.”
With the state flush with cash, thanks in part to voter approval of temporary tax increases in 2012, Democrats, labor, and advocates for the poor are pushing to extend the higher rates past their promised 2018 expiration; other activists want to restructure Proposition 13 to raise corporate property taxes and restore recession-era welfare benefit cuts; they’re also eyeing $2.5 billion Brown — with Republican support — has earmarked for public emergencies and paying down debt.
In all these debates, Republicans note that California tax rates are among the nation’s highest and blame Democratic dogma for redirecting wealth through economic redistribution schemes.
“Republicans must resist the siren song to grow big government even bigger,” said George Runner, a conservative Board of Equalization member. “Instead, we must offer compelling free-market alternatives that prioritize jobs, education, and public safety.”
In a political paradox, Brown, with his centrist fiscal views, has become the Republicans’ favorite Democrat on many money issues. “The governor once again becomes the voice of fiscal restraint,” Senate Republican leader Bob Huff said in his response to Brown’s budget proposal, adding that, “the fight isn’t with Republicans. It’s with his own party.”