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Mark Ridley-Thomas Headshot

Enough With the Temper Tantrum, the American People Are Waiting

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Like an obstinate toddler who doesn't get his way, the fringe element of the Republican Party has thrown itself to the ground screaming and crying, refusing to listen to reason, intelligent discourse or calm reproof.

Tea Party extremists have tried more than 40 times to overturn the Affordable Care Act, but failed to do so in Congress; their allies in elected office helped them attack voting rights across the nation in 2010 and 2011, hoping that day-long waits in line and legal high hurdles would disenfranchise Americans who opposed their agenda. They did not. They were trounced in the 2012 presidential election -- not one so-called swing state swung their way -- and perhaps the worst blow to the recalcitrant right-wing came when the conservative-leaning Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act.

Rebuffed by Congress, by the electorate and by the Supreme Court, the far right has resorted to the time-honored tactics of spoiled children everywhere: a take-no-prisoners temper tantrum. Of course, not only are the Ted Cruz Tea Party Extremists taking their own party down to the ground, the problem is they also are trying to take down the nation.

What is the appropriate reaction from Democratic leadership? Do not give in. The democratic process -- not the party, but the process -- requires that we stand firm even as these scorched-earth tactics cause unnecessary economic uncertainty and pain.

This week, I went to Washington, D.C. to advocate on behalf of Los Angeles County transportation projects, health care programs, social services and a host of other concerns. It has been a sobering experience. I have seen first-hand how the scorched-earth tactics of the far right are jeopardizing our region's economic wellbeing.

Here are some local consequences of the shutdown: With the Federal Department of Transportation closed, federal work on our $1.7 billion-airport light rail Crenshaw-to-LAX line project has halted. The new Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital, which will be charged with implementing health care reform, is left without direction from the federal government. And make no mistake when it comes to construction and contracts, time really is money. Certainly our $16.5 billion tourist industry will feel a pinch every day of this shutdown. Last year, more than 6 million visitors from abroad came to Los Angeles, injecting a much needed economic infusion into our hotels, restaurants, museums and parks and beaches. But the federal workers who process those visas are furloughed and visas are on hold -- and so is that money.

Californians, however, are no strangers to having a right-wing minority bring an entire government to a halt.

We used to regularly suffer through so-called "budget impasses" in 2010, 2011 Republican legislators could block passage of the state budget and force a shutdown of the government. They could do this because California's budget and tax increases had to be approved by a two-thirds supermajority of the Legislature. Finally, after months of impasse, deals were struck. But voters were incensed.

We have since overridden the two-third requirement, and now, like all but two states, we adopt a budget based on a majority vote. Furthermore, California's new top-two open primary system for state and congressional races means that neither party has a guaranteed finisher -- candidates lean as far to the left or as far to right if they choose, but they have to appeal to a majority of voters in order to win. Not just members of their own inner circles.

The inability of the Republican Party in California to moderate itself, to compromise, negotiate and reach deals, has rendered it irrelevant; today Democrats maintain a supermajority in both houses.

My politics are progressive, but this is not a desired outcome. The nation, like California, needs a diversity of voices from all parties and is poorly served when one descends to figurative rolling around on the legislative floor. So no, we can't give in to this behavior. Rather, we need a reasonable, functioning, Republican Party. So please, stand up.