Tag Archives: May 19

Get Used to This: Special Election or Die

You know how the Republicans had a gun to the heads of the Democrats over the budget?  Well, it is not pointing at the legislators any more. It’s still there, of course.  Now, it’s pointed directly at the voters.  Because, seriously, the Republicans will cut you:

Republican lawmakers, including the few who voted for a $12.5 billion tax package in February, say there’s no way they can support more tax increases.

“Additional taxes on top of what we’ve done cannot be part of the solution because the economy can’t stand it,” said Assemblyman Roger Niello, R-Fair Oaks (Sacramento County), Assembly budget vice chairman.

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“If the voters reject (the measures), what the voters are really saying is ‘We want you to go back to partisan warfare. We want you to go back to arguing and not getting something done,’ ” said Assembly Republican Leader Mike Villines of Clovis (Fresno County). “The message to the Legislature would be to go back to your corners.” (SF Chronicle 4/6/09)

There are a few logical problems with this analysis.  The first being that the electorate for a poorly noticed special election will always carry a partisan bias.  The turnout will be abysmal; perhaps we’ll get 20% of registered voters to vote.  If the voters tell the legislature to go to hell, nobody should be shocked. These voters are the most active and the most partisan.  On the right they can’t stand taxes, and on the left, well, they have a heart and cannot stomach the thought of additional cuts.

This is the theme that we will be seeing to pass Prop 1A. If the voters don’t pass this, the budget will explode. In effect, the task that the legislature couldn’t accomplish, saving the budget from collapse, is now somehow the voters’ responsibility. I don’t discount the pain that failure of the special election, it will clearly be painful. But why must the voters do the heavy lifting that the legislature has failed to do?

A deeper question is how long the voters will fight the Republican battles. How long will it be before the Democratic ideas of a larger social safety net are pervasive.  I bring this up because of a piece from a Money Mag. editor on where we go from here.

Social safety nets didn’t seem so important when even families with modest incomes could get 10% to 20% annual gains on their houses. … Some optimistic pundits even saw this borrowing spree as a workable solution to the new stresses that were showing up in the economic statistics, such as rising inequality and increasingly unstable middle-class incomes. If you lost your job or didn’t get a raise, you could borrow to smooth things over until better times.

It seems unlikely we’ll revert to that behavior anytime soon. So one prediction I’ll make about the next normal is that voters will look to government to help them manage risk. (CNN/Money 4/6/09)

As we move forward into the 2010 elections and beyond, are voters really going to be so fearful of the boogeyman “big government.”  Time after time, the only institution that can pick up the pieces of another financial disaster is the government.  Are voters really going to want to slash and burn through the only institution that can be relied upon?

So, whether or not the Republicans retreat to their ideological corner or not, their Norquistian position has an expiration date stamped on the underside.  The GOP ideas are beginning to curdle and emit a nasty odor.  Whether it happens immediately or at some later election, the GOP ideological extremism will be overcome.