California is in the midst of a big experiment in political reform, which has already led to a huge defeat for an increasingly right-wing Republican Party. Open primaries have replaced partisan primaries and redistricting has been taken away from the politicians, with each disrupting comfy old arrangements. Though these moves, adopted by initiative, were heavily backed by then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, they've been heavily opposed by most Republicans.
The California Republican Party put most of its remaining marbles on a desperate bid to derail the Citizens Redistricting Commission. The effort went on for more than a year, first to undermine and try to de-legitimize the work of the commission set up by initiative to take legislative and congressional redistricting out of the hands of the legislators -- a commission which, mind you, had an over-representation of Republicans on it -- and then to block the state Senate districts by a referendum.
That effort ended in abject failure on Friday, with a 7-0 vote of the Republican majority California Supreme Court upholding the commission's lines even if a referendum to overturn them does qualify for the November ballot. Here's the ruling.
It was not much of a surprise, in that the Court had previously turned down the Republican Party's call to have it appoint "special masters" to draw new district lines and had affirmed that the commission's lines meet constitutional requirements.
So now the elections move forward in districts which top Republicans fear will yield a two-thirds Democratic majority, and take away their "super-minority" de facto veto over revenues.
The only reason this is even an issue is that the last redistricting a decade ago was essentially an incumbent protection act, which locked in greater Republican representation than was warranted even as the state was turning away from the increasingly right-wing party.
Republicans spent millions they don't really have on various court challenges of the commission's work, not just on the state Senate lines but on congressional lines as well, and on efforts for qualifying a referendum.
If it does qualify, they then have to spend millions more to try to win it, in the face of widespread condemnation of their sour grapes politics, taking away from election campaigns. Or they can let the referendum die an ignominious death on the ballot.
Why did the Republicans acting this way? Because anti-tax/anti-government-ism is their their true bottom line issue. As we saw with Schwarzenegger's own experiences getting temporary tax hikes adopted in 2009, and Brown's painstaking and unsuccessful effort to gain a few legislative votes to merely place a tax extensions on the ballot last year.
Meanwhile, Brown keeps moving ahead with his revenue initiative for the fall, and on other major fronts.
Brown has been meeting with business executives, publicly and privately, as he's again traveled up and down the state. And he's raising money for his initiative, with over $2 million taken in.
The latest Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) poll last week is promising, showing what the PPIC calls "a strong majority" in favor of the initiative. If Brown can win over additional business support, while neutralizing major business opposition, he should be in good position for the fall.
But more needs to be done to demonstrate improved governmental efficiency. No one likes to think money is wasted.
Brown, who is working to gain business support for his initiative and neutralize business opposition, picked up big backing in the past few days from the California Teachers Association and the Service Employees International Union. While I've expected this all along, it should help dissuade backers of two remaining competing tax hike measures.
With the Think Long group of billionaires and former officeholders already, as predicted, dissuaded from their own clearly foolhardy plan to cut taxes for the rich and corporations while extending the sales tax to all manner of services, two measures competitive with Brown's are still out there. One by heiress Molly Munger would raise the income tax for most everyone in the state and, needless to say, does not poll well. Another by a coalition of left-liberal groups including the California Federation of Teachers would establish a big tax hike on millionaires, which does poll well but lacks is relatively short on resources. Both tout benefits for education. But with the main teachers union backing the Brown plan, they will find the going even tougher.
Meanwhile, Brown is moving forward in two other areas that he and Schwarzenegger have championed.
On Friday morning, Brown appeared on KGO and KCBS radio in the San Francisco Bay Area to discuss his budget and public pension reform plans. In the course of that, he strongly defended the state's high-speed rail program, which his administration is revamping in the wake of various managerial issues and controversies, saying that he will not allow California to slip into "third world" status and that it must continue to be a leader inside the U.S., despite the budget problems he is working on.
Brown noted that 14 other advanced industrial nations have high-speed rail, but it has been consistently blocked in the U.S. in favor of old energy economy approaches.
He also said that the program, which for its early phase of a decades-long project has funding from the Obama administration and state bonds, won't cost as much as current estimates have it and that revenue from the state's greenhouse gas cap and trade program can be used to help fund future segments of it.
Also on Friday, the Air Resources Board unanimously approved new rules requiring that 15% of new cars sold in California by 2025 run on electricity, hydrogen or zero or ultra-low emissions systems. Given California's role as a very large strategic market in the US, this could help transform the auto industry.
Brown made it clear when we talked over the holidays, as I wrote here on the Huffington Post for the anniversary of his inauguration, he intends to keep thinking big even in a time of limits.
You can check things during the day on my site, New West Notes ... www.newwestnotes.com.
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