This is perhaps the best description of the problems and controversies facing California that has appeared in the last five years.
Authors Mathews and Paul are long time observers of state government and journalists that have covered state politics for years. They have hit many nails on the head in this book—some of which are well known while others are more subtle. What they conclude is that California is virtually ungovernable at present due to a combination of several disasters: Prop. 13, gridlock caused in part by Initiatives, attaining a supermajority vote on taxation bills and term limits.
California wasn’t always in hock—we had a surplus, growth, first rate education system and exported culture by the carload everywhere. That changed because over time, Californians assumed that they could have more and more—and not pay for it. Tough law and order laws increased prison populations but added little money to state coffers to pay for the increases. Tax cuts made this worse. By terming career politicians out of office, compromise over governmental matters evaporated and capable people didn’t remain on the job long enough to leave a mark. The authors argue that democracy in California is broken—and that to fix it, we need to create a state Constitution that works, unlike the one we have now that is a patchwork of tissues that few can even read because it’s too thick.
The book is a fast read and rings true throughout every page. Pleasantly nonpartisan, it dumps on Democrats and Republicans fairly equally and gives significant blame to the folks who keep electing them. Best of all, it offers a clear and attractive argument for better ways to practice democracy—including changing the ways primaries work that would allow for third parties to achieve at least equal footing, if not prominence.
California has always been a bellwether for the United States and often presages what will happen to the rest of the nation that follows our lead whether willingly or not. Mathews and Paul argue successfully for a real new deal that would sweep away the deadwood of old and replace it with something that could be, if not perfect, at least functional, which they say would be an improvement over what we have now. It’s a scary though ultimately attractive argument that is worth analysis. Read it today.