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GOLIS: California’s nonsense politics


Down in Riverside, a county supervisor named Jeff Stone wants to split off 13 counties into a new and more conservative state called South California. It’s a silly and divisive idea. And it isn’t going to happen, even if a few folks walk around with the illusion that it will.

Pete Golis.

But this moment shouldn’t pass without paying tribute to Jeff Stone. With this simple gesture, he has shared with all of us an object lesson in the serial nonsense we call political debate in California.

The proximate cause of Stone’s ire is a new state budget that denies $14 million in vehicle license fees to four new cities in Riverside County.

So, the self-proclaimed conservative supervisor wants the state to cut spending — just as soon as it delivers its largesse to his backyard.

This is how it goes with a new generation of politicians who call themselves conservative. They want to have it all.

They want to cut vehicle license fees and then complain when there isn’t enough money to go around.

They want to complain about the high cost of prisons and endorse three-strikes laws.

They want government out of their lives, except when government is providing subsidized water to the farm corporations and golf courses of “South California.”

They want to complain about illegal immigration, while embracing agribusiness interests that have relied on illegal immigration for decades.

A spokesman for Gov. Jerry Brown noted that the 13 counties — Orange, San Diego and 11 inland counties — receive more from state government than they pay in taxes (thanks to taxpayers in places such as Los Angeles and San Francisco).

Meanwhile, people such as Stone imagine themselves to be the victims of government and the last self-reliant Americans.

In real life, statehood would be devastating to the standard of living in “South California.”

But Americans are looking for someone to blame, and there will always be politicians, liberal and conservative, ready to play to those frustrations. (Liberals make their own claims on victimhood.)

A UC Riverside political scientist was talking about the folks who want to split off from California, but he could have been talking about the emotional state of our national politics.

“The politics of victimhood are very powerful,” Shaun Bowler told the New York Times.

Just now, Americans seem to think that life will be better if they merely separate themselves from people who don’t think and act just like they do.

In Humboldt County, the Board of Supervisors recently asked the state redistricting commission to make sure that Humboldt isn’t included in any legislative or congressional district that also includes Marin County.

“Marin County is very rich, very urban, and it has the largest Ferrari dealership in the world,” Humboldt County Planning Commissioner Denver Nelson told the hometown Eureka Times-Standard. “Humboldt County is very poor, rural, and I think it has the largest supply of fertilizer in the world.” (Even if he is exaggerating, you have to admire a politician who can combine Ferraris and fertilizer in the same sound bite.)

In Texas, some Republicans are talking up the presidential prospects of a governor, Rick Perry, who once said his state might want to secede from the union.

The secession impulse has always existed in American politics. There have been dozens of half-baked proposals to split California north and south, east and west.

Once upon a time, Americans fought a terrible civil war.

And stressful times contribute to our mutual resentments. We’re living with a jobless recovery and an economy in transition, the fear of terrorism, doubts about the moral compass of people in government and business, a technological revolution, the cultural wars, government deficits and more.

These divisions were playing out last week in Washington, where politicians from the red states and blue states continued to live in alternate realities so far as the national debt is concerned — even as the country careened toward what Federal Reserve chief Ben Bernanke called a “huge financial calamity.”

Our differences remain essential to the American story. But we’re fated to disappointment if we think we can overcome them simply by separating into kingdoms of like-minded people.

In the state of “South California,” people would still find reasons to disagree — just as the people in your hometown find reasons to disagree.

Humboldt, Marin or Riverside, political leaders are obliged to solve problems together — a collaboration that requires tolerance and compromise.

E pluribus unum. One out of many. The Founding Fathers understood the challenges associated with managing a nation of people from many backgrounds. Going forward, the nation’s (and the state’s) well-being may depend on overcoming the impulse to believe that our narrow concerns are more important than the ideals that brought us together in the first place.

Pete Golis is a columnist for The Press Democrat. Email him at golispd@gmail.com.

14 Responses to “GOLIS: California’s nonsense politics”

  1. Skippy says:

    We keep the weapons, you keep the windmills, diversity classes, hybrid cars and all the patchouli oil.
    A fair exchange, as I’m sure you’ll agree.

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  2. bear says:

    YES! Divide up the country! Finally someone has brought this up!

    I have it on good authority that Canada would take WA, OR, NorCal down to San Luis Obispo, New England down to the NY state line, and maybe Michigan and Wisconsin.

    SoCal, Arizona and New Mexico could go back to Mexico – practically true already.

    Texas could become an independent country – practically true already.

    Florida could go to Cuba – practically true already.

    Hawaii could go back to being an independent country.

    Alaska could go to Canada, or make a deal with the Russians, or become an independent country. Sarah Palin could be queen?

    All the other states could fend for themselves. We’d charge for access to the Pacific Coast!

    How do we divide up the nuclear weapons, aircraft carriers and submarines?

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  3. Randall Flag says:

    I don’t consider myself a secession type,but we clearly have some IRRECONCILABLE DIFF’RENCES in this country with regard to the fundamentals of governance and the very relevance of the Constitution!?!

    And within the context of our current Economic/Monetary/Budgetary nightmare,I can see where some sort of partitioning of the country would seem attractive.

    Sometimes the fact that so much of my hard earned money goes to things I detest is enough to make me want to buy my own island…as if.

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  4. Grey Whitmore says:

    Well Anderson …

    If Obama destroys the presidency that will go hand in hand with how the Republicans have destroyed the American middle class and lead to one of the largest concentrations of wealth in history over the last 40 years.

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  5. Frank Hillis says:

    As long as d’s vote for d’s and r’s vote for r’s and not the right person for the job, we are on a runaway train to nowhere. Plain and simple. The people at d and HQ know this and therefore have no incentive to do the right thing. They do what will keep them in office and pay lip service to the d and r voters

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  6. bear says:

    You folks know me – I agree with every word of this editorial.

    Maybe you missed the part where those 13 counties get more money back from the State than they pay in taxes. This alone makes the proposed new state a fiscal impossibility. Unless you assume that the residents really don’t want that money.

    Same thing is happening on the national level – states that don’t pay their way want to have their cake and eat it, too.

    But all the polls say that people do want the money – they just can’t compromise on how to collect and spend it.

    We need statesmen, not ideologues or inverebrates who are more interested in their political careers than the good of the country.

    All this reminds me of an ancient ship rowed by slaves, but with half of them rowing in one direction and the other half rowing in the opposite direction. The result is that the ship goes in circles and nothing is accomplished.

    Everyone I know wants a well thought out compromise. So far, we are not compromising and nothing is being thought out. Do you really want major change to be quick and unconsidered?

    Guess we’ll have to continue circling until we all get tired of it, or until something really bad happens. Think it can’t get worse? You’re wrong.

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  7. Sarky Fish says:

    Golis: California’s nonsense writer. I stopped counting at nine different subjects introduced in one editorial essay. E pluribus unum: one out of many. How about: E pluribus mud-on-the-wallium? And, a flag waving conclusion does not, in any way, diminish the divisive and sniffy intensions of Mr. Golis’ point of view, which is, ever and always, that liberals are brilliant and faultless while conservative Americans are a bunch of selfish, dumb hicks. E pluribus bull doodle, and we all know it to be true.

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  8. Skippy says:

    Those darned conservatives!
    Don’t they understand that the only thing keeping America economically competetive is government?
    How dare they bite the hand that redistributes?
    The sloped-forehead rubes in flyover country have been bitterly clinging to those outdated concepts of religion, guns and freedom for too long.
    We need to drag them onto the Obama-bus to Stimulusville and shame them into silence so our betters in Sacto and D.C. can do the hard work of bankrupting this nation, like we elected them to.
    Oh, and Pete, be ready for a lot more stories like this in the months and years to come.
    You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!

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  9. Reality Check says:

    A flaw in Prop 13 was its requirement that the state make up the property tax loss to local schools. And then Brown made things worse by adopting that approach to all kinds of functions once the province of cities and counties.

    California is to big and diverse to be run from Sacramento, even if the legislature was competent, which it isn’t.

    Inland and northern rural counties have no desire to have Sacramento government shoved down their throat. And, given the results, who can blame them?

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  10. Anderson says:

    Regarding Grey’s claim: Ah, one could only hope. An independent would be nice too.

    But if the incompetent community agitator in the White House is allowed to finish his apparent task of destroying the presidency and country, it won’t matter how many pieces California is divided into – once again, the people must step up in 2012 and stop the runaway express train to fiscal ruin.

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  11. Common Sense says:

    First of all I couldn’t disagree more with this Mr. Golis’s statement that we are in a “jobless recovery”. There is no recovery without jobs, period.

    Secondly, I still find it amazing how much political opinion today is based solely on just opinion, with little actual fact or research behind it. Both State and Federal government have lost balance, we collect and spend millions, billions and trillions on duplicate agencies, social justice, bail outs, education, defense, law and order….etc etc. Yet, we have little to nothing in terms of progress to show for it. I’m no expert, but a little logic can go a along way here. Maybe, we should be spending a little less, doing a little house cleaning and re-organization and looking long and hard at priorities. For example, entitlement programs are huge budget items, both are second in terms of expenditures in both the Federal and State budgets. A “safety net” is something you use once, for a very short duration to cushion a fall, but for many in the country it’s become a permanent supplemental income. We cannot sustain that anymore then we can sustain four military actions at once. Until and unless we as voters are ready to start voting in those with a little more common sense and balance, and a little less idealogoy and extremism, we’ll keep getting what we have, a slow and steady decline of what has made us great, the I can attitude combined with an independant spirit and willingness to work.

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  12. Grey Whitmore says:

    This move isn’t about California State politics or state budgets but about national politics.

    There is no way that the democrats can win the White House without California.

    If such a proposal like this went through, the power of California’s electors would effectively destroyed and would essentially hand the Republican party a permanent hold on the presidency.

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  13. Steve Klausner says:

    @J.R. Wirth
    “the centralization of state powers and state money.” is a byproduct of Prop 13. Well actually, the previous Governor Brown’s bail out of Prop 13. When the State assumed funding of local governments they also gradually assumed authority over how those moneys are spent. Seemed reasonable at the time. Howard Jarvis must be spinning in his grave.

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  14. J.R. Wirth says:

    What Golis misses in this diatribe is that the very cause of disunity IS the centralization of state powers and state money. This centralizing force is what causes the friction between states, cities and counties.

    Having lived in both parts of California I can say that this state, more than any other, should be very decentralized. The populations of Redding and Eureka are very different than San Diego or Riverside. The populations of Marin and Sonoma are not the same people as LA or San Bernadino.

    Does this logic penetrate the thick skulls of statist centralizers like Golis? Of course not. Which is why, going forward, it’s very likely that Palm Springs will eventually part with San Jose and states like Vermont and Maine will eventually part with New Mexico and Texas.

    The miracle of political unity can only come from mutual respect and boundaries. The high-handed and meddling practices of Sacramento, and D.C. for that matter only weaken this unity.

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