Hail, Calitopia!

On To California224California 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.

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9 Responses to Hail, Calitopia!

  1. George Rebane says:

    Great report Bob. In 1951 Upton Sinclair said, “The American People will take Socialism, but they won’t take the label.” California, and now America, are proving this socialist’s prescience. And hearing the local socialists in terminal denial only goes to vindicate Sinclair’s insight.

  2. Don Baumgart says:

    Socialism: a theory or system of social organization advocating placing the ownership and control of capital, land, and means of production in the community as a whole.

    So, what’s wrong with that? Big business hasn’t done so well for the people (while doing really well for itself). Outsourcing jobs to foreign countries, for example.

    Just as in the days of Joe McCarthy the label (his was “communism”) is wagging the dog.

  3. steve cottrell says:

    The folks responsible for using Sinclair’s words as spoken by his fictional characters were Clem Whitaker and Leone Baxter:


    It’s interesting to note that Whitaker & Baxter were hired to get George Hatfield elected Lt Gov –– not to get Merriam elected. But they knew that if they could blow Sinclair out of the water, Merriam would probably win right along with their client.

    As things turned out, Merriam did win, but Hatfield actually received more votes than his running mate.

    Hatfield, by the way, was a former student at both Nevada City Elementary (the old Washington School) and Nevada City High School. He didn’t know it at the time, of course, but Hatfield’s use of Whitaker & Baxter to run his 1934 campaign, forever changed the way campaigns are run today.

  4. Steven Frisch says:

    “The Campaign of the Century: Upton Sinclair’s Race for Governor of California and the Birth of Media Politics” by Greg Mitchell is one of the best books ever written about California politics.

  5. Chris Peterson says:

    Our government is, and always has been, a mixture of democracy and socialism under the umbrella of a republic. We all collectively pay for those services that we need, and the question has always been “what is a need, and what is a want?” Capitalism fits well within that structure, as long as labor keeps pace with capital. It has become unbalanced from time to time, and has been corrected, either by government or by mass citizen revolt.

    But today we face a new reality. Because of four dominant factors that arose in the 70’s, what we experiencing is not a recession; it’s the new norm. 1- women entered the workplace in mass, (millions of them for the first time). 2- Millions of illegal immigrants flooded our southern border, for reasons mainly caused by our own business community. 3- jobs began off-shoring in response to the inevitable cycle of labor costs associated with success. 4- The computer; with all it’s labor-killing abilities. Taken together, and all within a short period of time, and capped off by the fall of corporate responsibility, (read as derivatives with no capital backing), life as we knew it is over. Labor is cheap, power is held by the few, and the average Joe is screwed, as are his kids and their kids, as we struggle to maintain a standard of living we can no longer afford.

    But unlike our forefathers, Americans lack any backbone to effect a change. (If you’ve got a 50″ TV, for some reason you still feel blessed.) But even if we had our own “Arab Spring”, it could effect no solution. No amount of social upheaval can change the reality of today’s marketplace, and those who argue most vociferously for a return to the “old ways” idiotically fail to realize that that bridge is out. It is what it is, and will be for quite some time.

    • rl crabb says:

      You can probably count the number of people who really believe we could return to the good ol’ days on one hand. It’s a brave new world we’re entering, and I don’t believe anyone on either side of the fence has any idea where the future will lead us. (Even though there is no shortage of opinions on the subject.) Finding the sweet spot between capitalism and socialism will be difficult with so many of the “old” professions dying on the vine.

      • Chris Peterson says:


        As to your cartoon; unlike times past, and other than a few who are finding employment in the new fracking fields of the mid-west, there is no place for people in search of a better life to migrate to. If China was an American colony, it would be the new California.
        But that ain’t happening; there’s way too many “Indians” on that continent to eradicate.

  6. rl crabb says:

    Here’s a list of the new taxes/fees that the legislature wants to impose on Californians. You can’t get to Utopia on the cheap.


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