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“Sundown for California”

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My adopted home is on the ropes, and Joel Kotkin explains why in this fine article about the rise and fall of California.

Kotkin did not forsee the passage of Prop 11, however, (few of us did) and the political crisis he describes could only be resolved through the end of gerrymandering which has driven California liberals over the far-left cliff. If the redistricting initiative is not undermined by the legislature or the California Supreme Court –which managed to ignite the nastiest political battle in the state since Prop 187– The elections of 2012 will be across new and very competitive districts and could well draw new energy into Golden State politics which has been a dead end for more than a decade.

The California crisis is a perfect example of liberal interest group governance, and the collapse of its budget and its job creation energy will follow in any political unit that follows its lead, no matter how large.

Key graphs from the Kotkin piece:

You can blame many factors for California’s fall from grace: too much immigration from poor countries, the impact of global competition on technology and aerospace industries, the end of the Cold War, failing schools, and the 12 years of political control by the Texas-centric Bushes. Yet other states have weathered similar storms and still gained ground on the Golden State.

The real problem lies in the decline of the state’s political culture. “Our society may be evolving spectacularly but our politics are devolving,” suggests [Kevin] Starr, the state’s most eminent historian. “California is in no way a role model for anyone from outside the state.”…

California’s shift to the Democrats had become inexorable and, with the fading of a GOP counterweight, influence within the party flowed to its more radical factions further to the political left. As a result, the state moved decisively away from the economic growth focus of Pat Brown. It seemed determined to wage war against its own economy. As pet social programs, entitlements, and state employee pensions soared, infrastructure spending-the hallmark of the Pat Brown regime and once 20 percent of the state budget-shrank to less than 3 percent.

The educational system, closely aligned with the Democrats in the legislature, accelerated its secular decline. Once full of highly skilled workers, California has become increasingly less so. For example, California ranks second in the percentage of its 65-year-olds holding an associate degree or higher and fifth in those with a bachelor’s degree. But when you look at the 25-to-34 age group, those rankings fade to 30th and 24th.

Instead of reversing these trends, the state legislature decided to spend its money on public employees and impose ever more regulatory burdens on business.

The elections of 2010 will see very little in the way of change within the state legislature because of gerrymandered districts, but if either Meg Whitman or Steve Poizner take over from Arnold in two years, a smart and successful new governor with deep experience in business growth and technological innovation will be in place when the class of 2012 arrives from legislative districts drawn without regard to incumbency, and perhaps the state’s political class will begin the hard work necessary to restoring California’s economic growth, without which nothing else can be renovated or renewed.


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