One of my political rules of thumb: No reform that
has any chance of actually working can be approved
without squeals of protest from the elite
opinion-makers. The converse is true: Anything that
moves forward in a bipartisan fashion and is widely
admired in the mainstream media is bound to be a
That's because America's elites - and California's in
particular - are liberals who believe in bigger
government, higher taxes, more regulations. Promote an
idea that threatens that tax-spend-regulate status quo,
and the howls of protest begin.
In 1978, California voters rejected the dire
predictions of the state's newspapers and politicians
and voted for Proposition 13, which limited the
increases in property taxes that were driving people out
of their homes and imposed two-thirds voting
requirements for the passage of most bonds and tax
How do we know Prop. 13 struck paydirt?
Twenty-five years later, media pundits, legislators
and academics are still whining about it, blaming it for
every bad thing that ever happened in California from
heinous crimes to crumbling infrastructure. But the
public knows better, and still strongly backs Prop. 13's
Another Prop. 13-style revolt is shaping up in
California. And judging by the cries and moans of
editorialists and politicians, one would think the world
is coming to an end. But this is good news. Their upset
is a sign that something serious is taking place.
Exhausted by Gov. Gray Davis' outright incompetence
in the face of the electricity and budget crises, his
legally dubious tripling of the car tax by
administrative fiat, and his continued willingness to
chase businesses out of state by signing
Euro-socialist-style legislation, California voters have
flocked to signature-gathering tables to back a proposed
recall election of the governor.
A statewide poll released earlier this month showed
51 percent of likely voters backing the recall - a
definite sign that the governor is toast. But the
governor, and his Democratic allies, are not about to
sacrifice the state's top office gracefully. Secretary
of State Kevin Shelley, the partisan San Francisco
Democrat who is politicizing an office that was run
professionally and fairly by Republican Bill Jones, is
purposefully delaying the certification of the
Recall backers have stopped collecting signatures,
given that their total numbers are expected to hit 1.5
million. That is far in excess of the required 897,158.
The secretary of state should work to certify the
numbers and schedule the election for November, as
specified by state law.
Instead, Shelley has been telling county recorders,
in effect, to slow the process in the hopes of delaying
the recall vote until March 2004 - during a presidential
primary that will bring out higher numbers of Democratic
voters likely to oppose a recall of a Democratic
Meanwhile, the governor's allies are threatening
legal action to halt the recall campaign based on
Davis supporters are arguing that the out-of-state
signature gatherers and Internet petitions used by
recall supporters somehow violate state election law.
Their arguments probably won't stand up in court, but
could delay a vote until March.
Davis might be the least popular governor in
California history, but he also is one of the most
ruthless when it comes to winning and retaining his
office. Even if his allies delay the election, they will
be hard-pressed to stop the brewing revolt.
We can see the frustration everywhere: frustration at
fleeing jobs, higher taxes, unrelenting regulations,
mounting budget deficits, crumbling infrastructure and
poor public services.
Meanwhile, as doubling and tripling workers'
compensation costs drive businesses to Utah and Arizona,
the governor sits motionless. The Legislature,
controlled by liberal Democrats, is oblivious to the
budget crisis, and is still proposing a steady diet of
increased spending, higher taxes and special favors for
their union and trial lawyer benefactors.
So a new Prop. 13-style revolt unfolds. Republican
legislators have gotten matters rolling with their
admirable stand against new taxes. There's an initiative
pushed forward by Sen. Tom McClintock, R-Simi Valley, to
completely eliminate the car tax. And then the main
event - the recall election - will move ahead,
regardless of how hard the Democrats try to stay on the
sinking Davis ship.
This is the real thing, not just some bipartisan deal
to "fix" things that really fixes nothing. Like
clockwork, the opinion makers are making fun of the
Wrote Steve Lopez in the Los Angeles Times,
recounting the actions of a typical recall signer: "The
recall supporter had just done what passes for civic
duty in California - he had signed a petition. But he
had not thought beyond the cheap satisfaction of the
act, and so he stood there with his mouth open, looking
dumber than ham."
Yep, recall signers are just rubes who aren't smart
enough to think about what we are doing. Or, perhaps,
most of us have thought it through - and realize that a
few more years of business as usual would doom this
state to Third World status.
Expect more of the same highbrow putdowns.
Expect "responsible" voices to warn against the
impact of the recall on the state's bond rating, as if
an election is more threatening than the current fiscal
policies pursued in Sacramento.
Expect more columnists to argue that the real
solution to California's crisis is to reduce the
supermajority needed to pass budgets from two-thirds to
55 percent - so Democrats can simply fill any budget gap
by raising taxes at will.
Don't pay them any mind.
In his book "The Legend of Proposition 13," Joel Fox,
former aide to Prop. 13 leader Howard Jarvis, reminds us
that "[f]olklore is the people's story. ... The people
have a different view on what happened with Proposition
13, which is often ignored by professors and newspaper
Perhaps a new folk story is in the making, about how
ordinary Californians, in defiance of elite opinion,
took back their state from the socialists and
It's our story to write, regardless of what the
professors and pundits have to say.