Wednesday, November 19, 2014

California’s Object Lessons for Democrats

If Democrats wanted to know some of the reasons they got skunked in the recent elections they could learn a lot by looking at what’s going on in California. The state of California is a distillation of fundamental flaws that are “hollowing out” the Democratic Party.

The politicians, activists, and contributors holding sway in the Democratic Party are far out of step with average voters. A majority of voters either don’t want or don’t care about the favorite issues of the party elites — climate change, Obamacare, fracking, plastic bags, diversity, sugary soft drinks, GMOs, “corporate personhood,” amnesty, late-term abortions and the Washington Redskin’s nickname. Democrats for some reason put a lot of energy into proposals that very few people care about and will have no measurable impact.

For example, a tax on sugary soft drinks was a ballot measure in San Francisco and Berkeley. The Berkeley measured passed, the San Francisco measure did not. Because of differences in how they were structured, the Berkeley measure needed only a majority, the one in SF needed two-thirds, but garnered only 55 percent of the vote. As noted by the San Francisco Chronicle, “San Francisco, always a city that loves being first, instead became the 31st municipality to opt not to adopt a soda tax.”

The tax in Oakland will be one cent per ounce on soda, Snapple, Gatorade, vanilla lattes and other beverages with added sugar. The unsuccessful SF measure would have imposed a two cent per ounce tax on sugary drinks.

According to the Chronicle, “Neighborhoods with more low-income and minority voters, including Chinatown, Bayview, Hunters Point and Visitacion Vallley, voted against the tax.” The fact that the tax on sugary soft drinks in San Francisco failed to pass because lower income neighborhoods voted against it illustrates the Democratic Party elites are at odds with the very groups they claim to care about.

Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, a well-known true believer in the evils of sugar, contributed $657,000 to the Berkeley campaign but nothing for the one in SF. A Chronicle article on the Berkeley measure was headlined, “Town that barely sips it taxes soda.”

“The tax is expected to raise between $1 million and $2 million annually for school gardens, cooking classes for kids, and other public health programs.… But the hope, ultimately, is that Measure D will generate zero dollars because people will stop drinking soda, said Martin Bourque, director of the Ecology Center and spokesman for the Yes on D campaign.” If that happens does it mean the end for school gardens and cooking classes for kids?

Other examples of Democratic political hallucinations were ballot measures in Mendocino and Humboldt counties. Voters in Mendocino County passed a prohibition on fracking even though there are no oil or gas wells in the county and none planned, so far as anyone knows.

In Santa Barbara County a ballot measure to ban fracking received only 38 percent of the vote. Oil and gas wells do exist in Santa Barbara County. Opponents of the measure there successfully convinced voters that the fracking ban would destroy jobs and increase unemployment.

In Humboldt County a ballot measure passed that prohibits growing genetically modified crops, even though there are almost no commercial crops there that would be affected. The county is mostly forested (ninety percent of the world’s redwoods grow there). Dairy and beef cattle are about the only significant forms of agriculture other than weekly farmers’ markets. Just how the ban would be enforced is unclear.

In September Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a ban on “single use” plastic bags. He said at the time, “This bill is a step in the right direction — it reduces the torrent of plastic bags polluting our beaches, parks and even the vast ocean itself.… We’re the first to ban these bags, and we won’t be the last.” Grocery chains and pharmacies will be required to charge customers ten cents for paper bags. One exclusion from the charge will be customers using California’s “CalFresh” program (the trendy new name for California’s food stamp program). Democrats are always looking for a fresh way to help the downtrodden.

Claiming that there is “a torrent of plastic bags” is of course a gross exaggeration/bold-faced lie. A 2011 extensive study and analysis by the British Environmental Agency, “Life Cycle Assessment of Supermarket Carrier Bags,” concluded that plastic bags were, in fact, less environmentally impactful than either paper bags or reusable cotton bags.

Brown’s claim, “We’re the first to ban these bags, and we won’t be the last,” is a classic example of California inflated sense of self. The arrogance and self-importance of California progressives is almost beyond comprehension, akin to the recently discovered videos of Obamacare architect Jonathan Gruber. California politicians labor under the delusion that the whole world is just watching the state in order to know what to do next.

The dime charge for paper bags and the penny per ounce tax on sugary soft drinks are both examples of the how easy Democrats think it is to achieve their desired behavior modifications.

Beginning January 1 California drivers will see gasoline prices increase from 12 to 20 cents per gallon, possibly much more. The reason for the increase is that starting then tailpipe emissions from cars and trucks will come under California’s cap-and-trade program. The ostensible purpose for the program is, of course, to reduce greenhouse gases and thereby prevent climate change.

How the revenue generated from the program will be spent is yet to be determined. Governor Brown wants a third of the money to be used to finance his ill-conceived and over-priced high-speed rail from San Francisco to Los Angeles. The fact that California actually thinks it can make a difference in global temperatures is further evidence of the state’s exaggerated self-importance.

California already has the second highest gasoline prices of all the states, second only to New York. At 49 cents per gallon it also has the second highest gasoline tax, two cents per gallon below first place New York. The new carbon tax will put California securely in the top spot.

One sign that even Californians are coming back from the political ozone is Oakland’s mayoral election where challenger Libby Schaaf beat incumbent Jean Quan. As Chronicle columnist Chip Johnson observed, “The differences between Schaaf and her rivals are like night and day: Schaaf takes a practical approach to public policies and project goals. Quan and [Rebecca] Kaplan are idealists whose big dreams quite often don’t come to fruition.” The two mayors who preceded Quan were Jerry Brown and former congressman Ron Dellums.

California is also a case study of the Democrats’ gerontocracy dilemma. Nancy Pelosi and Barbara Boxer are both 74, Jerry Brown 76 (who was just reelected for four more years), and Dianne Feinstein is 81. Former San Leandro Mayor Anthony Santos, a Democrat, recently observed, “There are too many Democrats who are well over 70 and have no idea what it is like to be young — and what the younger people are thinking and what their needs are.”

As a California resident it makes me sad to witness the immense damage done by Democrats and their “progressive” allies. According to the U.S. Census, California last year had a net out-migration of over 49,000 people, the most of any other state. The state has vast human and non-human assets. The climate and scenery are about as good as it gets. It’s too bad that the politicians exploit those attractions by overtaxing and abusing those of us who can’t bear the thought of leaving.

Among the many lessons shown in the recent election is that the rest of the country has chosen a very different path from the one blazed by California’s Democratic politicians. California is now an outlier rather than a trendsetter. That’s a good thing for the country. Following California is about the worst thing the country and the world could do.


California’s Object Lessons for Democrats November 19, 2014

Ron Ross Ph.D. is a former economics professor and author of The Unbeatable Market. Ron resides in Arcata, California and is a founder of Premier Financial Group, a wealth management firm located in Eureka, California. He is a native of Tulsa, Oklahoma and can be reached at

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