California politics have always been weird, but one of the strangest episodes was the Governor’s race in 1934. Upton Sinclair, author of The Jungle, decided to go mainstream in the newly revived New Deal Democratic Party after years of running on the Socialist ticket. In 1933 he authored a short story entitled I, Governor of California, and How I Ended Poverty: A True Story of the Future. In it, he proposed turning factories and farms into co-ops, levying a 39% tax on anyone making over 50K, and generally upending the entire political structure of the Golden State. The acronym EPIC stood for “end poverty in California”, but as you can see from this editorial cartoon by Fred Korburg, others saw a different message.
Those in power were not amused. At the time, California was a mirror image of today’s majority. Republicans held every statewide office and controlled the legislature by wide margins. Governor Frank Merriam was not particularly popular, so the media and the movie industry mounted a devastatingly relentless smear campaign against Sinclair. Lines spoken by characters in his novels were passed off as quotes from the candidate, making him appear to be a madman.
And it worked, although Sinclair’s ambitious agenda probably scared off enough voters on its own. Merriam won in a landslide, and Sinclair went on to write a sequel to I, Governor called I, Candidate For Governor: And How I Got Licked. Even so, Democrats picked up seats in the legislature and started their long march back to power.
And that’s where we are today. I suppose I should be excited to be in the Big Petri Dish of politics. The new veto-proof majority has pretty much abandoned the slow road to Utopia. There are numerous bills floating through the system that intend to modify Prop 13. The main intent is to tighten the noose on commercial property loopholes, but there is also a move to lower the bar on local special elections, from 66% to 55%. That might be okay if all the voters were property owners, but that’s hardly the case in our present state. There’s also a plethora of new gun control bills headed our way, just to show Washington that “we can do what you can’t.”
And they’re just getting warmed up. Obamacare kicks in at the end of the year, and the process has become so convoluted that the govmint had to hire hundreds of “navigators” to steer people into the new system. Next year should be somewhat chaotic as the program unfolds, or folds. Of course, our legislators will be ready with our homegrown single payer plan to pick up the pieces. On the positive side, Mark Leno is pushing a bill to allow bars to stay open until 4am, which should be a boon to bar owners and purveyors of alcohol and crank. (You’ll need a few pops to stay vertical at that hour. Trust me. I’ve been there.) And of course, there is still support for the problematic bullet train, even as the latest estimates project massive cost overruns and more opposition from communities impacted by the route. Could it ever be profitable? Possibly, if air travel becomes too expensive and people get tired of being x-rayed and probed every time they get the urge to go to LA.
At this point, the only thing standing in the way of Democrats is our conservative-progressive (or is it progressive-conservative?) governor. The Republican Party, slowly dwindling into the New Whigs, doesn’t have a clue. (Hint: Stop bashing Latinos.)
So yeah, I’m a little more apprehensive than excited. All I can do is sit back and echo Pete Townsend’s sage words: I’ll get on my knees and pray, we don’t get fooled again.