Saturday, November 28 , 2015, 5:59 am | Fair 39º

Robert Scheer: California the Land of Milk and Honey Once More

By Robert Scheer | @Robert_Scheer |

What’s the matter with California? It is a question once asked about Kansas, when that state came to be viewed as a harbinger of a more conservative America. But now the trend is quite opposite, the right wing is in retreat and the Golden State is the progressive bellwether.

How is it that the state that incubated the presidencies of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan is now so deep blue Democrat that Mitt Romney hardly bothered to campaign there? Why did voters, including huge majorities in the state’s two wealthiest counties, approve a tax on high-income earners to increase funding for public education?

The answer is that the shifting demographics of California, forerunners of an inevitable national trend, are producing an American electoral majority that is more culturally sophisticated, socially tolerant and supportive of a robust public sector than can be accommodated by the simplistic naysayers who now dominate the Republican Party.

The big news from the last election is that California, home to 12 percent of Americans and the world’s eighth-largest economy, is a model of rational political thought. Not only did President Barack Obama garner almost 60 percent of the vote there, but the Democrats who already controlled all branches of the state’s government gained a two-thirds supermajority in both houses of the state Legislature, the first time one party has done so since 1933, when the Republicans were in power. The Democrats have not managed such a feat since 1883.

Instead of voters rewarding the state’s Republican Party for its obstructionist tactics on any measure requiring a two-thirds vote, they provided California’s Democratic leadership with the votes needed to trump limits on tax collection imposed by the infamous Proposition 13, which for 34 years had shortchanged the public sector of needed funding.

The resulting California vote was consistent with a national tendency that the Wall Street Journal summarized in a headline: “Wall Street Took a Beating at the Polls.” The article cited the victories of populists in Senate races, including Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts and Sherrod Brown in Ohio, voter-approved increases in taxes in a number of states, and the rejection by historically anti-tax New Hampshire of an amendment to the state constitution that would have banned an income tax. But the example of the Golden State was even more compelling:

“In California, home to 88 of the 400 wealthiest Americans, according to Forbes, voters raised corporate taxes on businesses based out of state and raised income taxes on the wealthiest residents. What’s more, the measure, which passed 53.9 percent to 46.1 percent statewide, received strong support in some of the counties where those tax increases will sting. In San Mateo, the home of Silicon Valley, the measure passed 63.2 percent to 36.8 percent In Marin, where annual income ranks in the top 20 of all U.S. counties, the margin was even higher, 68.2 percent to 31.8 percent.”

So it isn’t just brown and black or poorer voters, who are barely present in those two counties, who explain the shift in the political outlook of Californians as much as it is a notion of what a modern society requires for its economic success and social stability. The key issue involved in that tax initiative was funding for education, including the state’s extensive system of public higher education. A once robust collection of community colleges, a network of excellent state universities and the internationally admired University of California campuses will all benefit.

Even if one does not depend on that vast system for the education of one’s own progeny, and surely there are many who do, there was massive support from the state’s business leaders — as demonstrated by the Silicon Valley vote — who recognize that education fuels productivity. A school term ending in April — a possibility in some districts had the initiative not passed — would not provide an adequate education for California’s workforce.

It is refreshing to discover that not every super wealthy person need be a shortsighted pig. That is one lesson from California voters, and it should burnish the Golden State’s reputation as an inspiration for the nation. It helps that the cutting edge industries in the state, ranging from the older world of entertainment to the newest of information technology, are apparently more inclined to a progressive outlook than the entrenched economic interests in some other states. Texas comes to mind.

But the Lone Star State will also change because of the far more important demographic changes that affect both Texas and California even more than the rest of the country. Recall that Texas Gov. Rick Perry ran into trouble in the Republican primaries for suggesting that the education of undocumented immigrants might contribute to our shared prosperity.

In California, Gov. Jerry Brown deserves major credit for pushing through the tax initiative by mobilizing younger and Latino voters to recognize that their access to education was at stake. But the larger demographic shift in the state reflects a national trend that carried Obama into the White House once again.

As veteran California political writer Dan Walters of The Sacramento Bee put it: “[The] election saw the emergence of a much different demographic profile that, if it continues, permanently changes assumptions about our politics. California’s new electorate, derived from exit polling data, is multiracial, younger, more liberal, not very religious and less likely to be married with children ... The long reign of older white voters is coming to an end ... “

Thank God. editor Robert Scheer’s new book is The Pornography of Power: How Defense Hawks Hijacked 9/11 and Weakened America. Click here for more information. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow him on Twitter: @Robert_Scheer.

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» on 11.19.12 @ 09:28 PM

And of course California continues to dazzle the world with its responsible, balanced approach to taxes, with 144,000 of the taxpayers paying half the state income tax while hafe pay nothing due to the “progressive” nature of the state’s tax system.  Undoubtedly Obama will try to make the nation’s tax system equally “fair”.  Remember the golden goose.

» on 11.19.12 @ 09:29 PM

California is still on an downward unsubstantial path.
You could tax everyone making over $250K at 100% and it would not be enough for the spendaholics we have in CA government. 

It is a very sad situation in CA.

» on 11.20.12 @ 03:47 AM

Interesting how he quotes Dan Walters, a fierce critic of the public employee unions and the unsustainable regulatory and tax and spending policies in this state. It’s obvious Scheer doesn’t live in Ca.; otherwise, he might know we have one of the highest unemployment rates in US and 1/3 of the welfare recipients despite only having 12% of the nation’s population.

I see how he refers to rich people as shortsighted pigs. Since we are using animal metaphors, some might say he is a clueless jackass.

» on 11.20.12 @ 11:05 AM

Robert you are so right on…I think that raising taxes all across the board - except for those that make less than $80,000 makes perfect sense.  Can we come up with some other taxes to put in place.  How about a California VAT?  I’m a tax guy now.  I want to see the system totally collapse and I’m being very very serious.  We can do it I know we can.

» on 11.20.12 @ 11:48 AM

Dear Mr. Scheer, What are you smokin’?  Oh, wait. Dumb question.

» on 11.20.12 @ 06:52 PM

Robert obviously does not live in California. We were once the 6th largest economy and are now near 9th and falling. The only reason we haven’t dropped further is all the other dopy socialist states and countries that are racing us to bankruptcy. The reason the GOP is rapidly becoming a minority here is that they are leaving and in greater and greater numbers, not because the electorate is becoming enlightened with “progressive” thought. That’s just what is left, literally.

As the left continues to whore with public service unions, impose strangling taxation and regulate the snot out of everything, more of the right will continue to leave. As for the wealthy only those who inherited their wealth or made it far to easy (Hollywood) feel compelled to keep it in the state, the smart money is leaving faster than the population of successful, another tragic blindness the left has by its own ideology.

If the Obama Administration wants to use California as a bellwether, that is fine with me because this state will tragically make it to the bottom of every indicator before the rest of the country and Obama can see first hand what a suicidal failure liberalism and progressivism really is.

» on 11.20.12 @ 07:59 PM

AN50 I’m serious when I say that this this is a good thing.  One must let the patient die before it can be cured.  I dream of watching, even helping, the system melt down completely….more and higher taxes are the answer.  Think of all that can be solved when that revenue is raised.

» on 11.20.12 @ 10:58 PM

I hear you Dan, but more and higher taxes won’t raise revenue and you and I know why. The left seems utterly clueless about how revenue is raised. For them it’s not about what works but what appears fair, whether it is actually fair or not.

So yes, by voting for more and higher taxes these idiots will indeed hasten the decline and collapse, regardless that Europe, their idol, is racing them to it.

» on 11.20.12 @ 11:56 PM

AN50 I love ya but you msunderstand what I am saying.  I want this entire system to completely collapse.  The States can take care of themselves…especially Texas; but I want to see the Federal system implode.  As in non-existent.  To do this I want taxes to go beyond 90%, I want the entitlements to be vastly expanded…even added too.  I want every illegal in this country to receive drivers licenses and the right to vote.  So, I have changed how I look at things.  I like what the progressives are doing and look forward to helping them as much as possible.

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