Should a set of tax hikes in California be allowed to expire, or should they be extended in order to help pay down state’s Texas-size deficit?
In his campaign for governor last year, Gov. Jerry Brown promised to put that question on a ballot measure so that California voters could make the decision. Brown won in November with a 13 point margin.
Voters like the idea. A Field Poll released last week found that 61 percent of registered voters favor putting the measure on the ballot.
And, really, who would oppose such a small-d democratic move?
The California Republican Party would, that’s who. The state GOP has staked what little credibility it has left on preventing voters from having their say on the tax extensions.
Why? Because that same Field Poll found that 58 percent of Californians would vote for the extension, including 69 percent of both Democrats and independents and 44 percent of Republicans.
Republicans oppose allowing the vote even though the governor has coupled the tax extensions with over $12 billion in cuts, including many that will hit services for the poor, elderly and sick — precisely the sort of programs Republicans love to cut.
There are several methods Brown could have used to put the initiative on the ballot, but he wants the effort to have bipartisan support and so has chosen to go through the Legislature, which means he needs the votes of two Republicans in the Assembly and two in the Senate.
The California GOP is having none of it. A junta of extremists is threatening to purge Republican lawmakers who vote to green light the ballot measure. A pair of Limbaugh wannnabes on AM radio in Los Angeles are bullying GOP legislators in Sacramento. And, yes, last week, the governor’s office offered to send Brown’s popular corgi, Sutter, to debate tax-hater Grover Norquist at the state GOP’s biannual convention over the weekend.
The extremists will put a resolution before the convention that, if passed, would represent what the folks at the inimitable CalBuzz have described as Stalinism:
We’ve … taken a look at the GOP Alien and Sedition Act proposed by the cave-dwelling California Republican Assembly, which would expel any GOP legislators who vote to put Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax extension on the June ballot.
The proposed resolution (and we quote) “censures these traitorous Republicans-in-Name-Only, ask(s) for their resignation(s) from their positions within the California Republican Party, pledges to endorse and support efforts to recall them from office, and directs the California Republican Party staff, agents and officers to refuse to provide them with funding or assistance in future elections.”
As if the CRP had any money or assistance to give.
In the words of Jim Brulte, the former legislative leader and perhaps the smartest GOP thinker in the state: “If the California Republican Party spent half as much time trying to elect Republicans in November as they do trying to purify the party in June, we’d have a lot more elected Republicans.”
But the true believers would rather have 20 percent of the [seats in the] Legislature populated by purist ideologues than have 50 percent [of the seats] and a healthy dose of diverse thinking.
March 20, 2011, Update: The purge proposal was withdrawn before it could be voted on at the convention.
The debate over the ballot measure in Sacramento is being driven to a remarkable degree by John and Ken, conservatives talkers on AM radio in Los Angeles. These guys have no reach outside the ever-shrinking right-wing echo chamber in the state, but they have managed to leverage the limited influence they have to bully Republican legislators:
[They] refer to various lawmakers as “traitorous pigs,” “con artist” and “Republican dirt bag.” They use gruesome sound effects to suggest the mounting of one legislator’s head on a stake — his entry into the duo’s hall of shame.
The KFI-AM personalities, whose frequent targets are taxes, labor unions and illegal immigrants, not only reach more listeners than any other non-syndicated talk show in California but also have the ear — and fear — of Sacramento’s minority party.
“There is nary a conversation about the budget that does not involve the names John and Ken,” said Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), the state Senate leader, who says the pair complicate his party’s negotiations with Republicans…
The activists offer no alternative budget plan and say no policy concessions on Republican priorities — such as a state spending cap or a pension overhaul — are worth ceding ground on taxes. If they succeed in blocking the public vote on taxes that Brown’s budget blueprint includes, the governor promises a spending plan containing deep service cuts that he says would have disastrous consequences for the state.
Their response has been, in essence: “Bring it on.”
Yeah, what could go wrong.
In the run-up to the convention, state GOP Chairman Ron Nehring challenged Brown to come to the venue and debate Grover Norquist, the infamous anti-tax nerd and Washington insider — he’s best known for saying that the federal government should be small enough to drown in a sink — on whether Californians should be given the opportunity to vote on the tax extension:
“I know you’re a fierce debater and welcome a challenge,” Nehring wrote. “In the interest of promoting a vigorous debate on the subject of taxes, spending, and the role of government, I am inviting you and Mr. Norquist to debate these issues at the upcoming California Republican Party State Convention, conveniently located just one block from your office, on Saturday, March 19.”
…Norquist has already agreed to participate, Nehring said.
“As governor we appreciate that you’ve regularly engaged Republican leaders -– a phenomenon some of our Republican legislators are not used to from the governor’s office,” he concluded. “In that spirit I hope you accept this offer.”
Norquist became part of the budget debate by warning Republican legislators who signed his no-tax-increase pledge — a tradition among GOP candidates — that they would be in violation if they supported Brown’s budget proposal, which would put tax extensions on the June ballot. Brown responded in recent days by calling Norquist’s actions “pathetic” and “highly undemocratic.”
Brown’s spokesman criticized Norquist as unknowledgeable, said Brown was too busy to debate and offered up an alternative — First Dog Sutter Brown, a corgi recently adopted by Brown and his wife, Anne Gust Brown.
“Last time I checked, Grover Norquist didn’t know the difference between Ronald Reagan and Jerry Brown — he blamed Gov. Brown last week for signing a collective bargaining bill that was actually signed by Gov. Reagan in 1968,” said spokesman Gil Duran.
“As we all know, the governor is very focused right now on getting a balanced budget solution and doesn’t really have time for fun and games,” he added. “But we do think Sutter Brown, California’s First Dog, might be able to accept the challenge, and that would be more fair a fight for Grover Norquist anyway.”
The Browns’ dog Dharma passed away last year. They adopted Sutter, who is seven, from Brown’s sister, Kathleen, a Goldman Sachs executive who moved to Chicago.
Apparently, the California GOP had to fly Norquist in because they could not find a Republican a pol or pundit in California who could — or would — debate the governor on whether voters should be allowed to vote. That pretty much says it all.
The decline in fortunes for the California GOP can be traced back to 1994, when it hitched its star to the anti-immigrant Prop 187 ballot initiative. Since then, the party has shed registered voters by the millions. It nearly went bankrupt a few years ago, and even now reportedly only has $250,000 in the bank.
During the 2008 campaign, the California GOP was so broke that it was unable to participate in the campaign for Proposition 8, the anti-gay amendment, which had to be funded by sources outside the state, particularly including the Mormon Church in Utah. Aside from fomenting hatred toward gays, the political objective of putting anti-gay amendments on ballots is to get bigoted voters to the polls in order to elect Republicans. And yet, in 2008, despite the fact that Prop 8 passed, the state GOP lost a seat or two in the legislature.
There was some speculation — not a lot, but some — that after the party’s stunning losses last November — every GOP candidate for statewide office lost, as did the party’s candidate for the U.S. Senate, and all of them but one lost by double digits — that the party might do some soul searching, might try to reconfigure itself so that it could play some sort of constructive role in governing the state.
It’s hard to see how standing in the way of allowing voters to vote helps the GOP cause, especially since it is Republicans who insist that the people — not their elected representatives — should make the decision on issues like health-care reform and gay marriage.
The California Republican Party is already a laughingstock. This sort of loony tunes behavior — as entertaining as it may be for the party’s critics — turns off moderates and drives them out of the party. If they keep it up, it will soon be the California GOP, not the federal government, that can be euthanized in a sink.