So here I am again, beginning the third incarnation of my running commentary on all things California, but particularly its politics.
Having written more than 9,000 California-centric columns over the last 36-plus years, first for the late Sacramento Union and then for 33 years for the Sacramento Bee, I and the column have moved to CALmatters.
Four times a week, I will conjure up about 500 words of observation about California politics, and also will travel throughout the state for longer articles about the challenging issues it faces in the coming years and decades.
Why CALmatters? The name really says it all: California matters, not only to Californians, but, because of its unique attributes, to the larger world.
CALmatters is a nonprofit organization founded on the principle that such uniqueness requires journalism that looks far beyond the daily churn of political maneuvering and delves deeply into its underlying issues.
That credo meshes completely with my own abiding interests in California’s continuous economic, cultural, demographic evolutions and the difficult challenges – even dilemmas – they present to its political system.
One current conflict illustrates the syndrome.
California has evolved into a blue state whose voters overwhelmingly support Democratic Party politicians, giving them virtually total control over state government, and generally support the party’s liberal goals, which require more spending.
At the same time, however, those voters have demonstrated repeatedly that they are somewhat averse to paying higher taxes themselves to pay for those goals, even as they embrace taxing others, such as smokers or the rich.
After years of ignoring the deterioration of California’s vital roadway network, Gov. Jerry Brown and his fellow Democrats in the Legislature mustered the will, and the votes, to raise gas taxes and other auto-related fees to increase spending on transportation by more than $5 billion a year.
Despite the demonstrated need, a subsequent poll revealed that most Californians dislike paying the new taxes and, in effect, endorse the Republican opposition, even though they almost never vote for Republicans.
It’s entirely possible that voters will pass an initiative repealing the new road taxes, which would not only put the issue back at square one, but make it politically radioactive and thus even more intractable.
That sort of dichotomy – the clash between reality and politics – permeates California and explains why issues, such as the deterioration of roads and highways, often simmer for years, or even decades, without resolution.
One finds similar dynamics in countless other important matters, such as education, water and housing, whose outcomes will determine whether California’s spectacular history will continue, or whether it, like ancient Rome or Detroit, will see its societal position crumble.
They are the kinds of issues – those central to California’s fate – on which this column has focused in years past and will continue to explore in the future, with a minimum of inside-the-Capitol gamesmanship, although some is inevitable, and a maximum of outside reality.