There has been a lot of interesting information coming out lately concerning the state of the electorate and the unlikely passage of the May 19th ballot measures. I have been spending a lot of time just thinking about what it all means. Why do the voters continue to elect nearly two thirds of their representatives as Democrats, yet give that same legislature an approval rating of 14%? Why do they continue to desire to keep, and often pass through the initiative process, more programs, yet refuse to consider increases in revenue?
Let me first say that some very astute thinkers, I believe, are on to something. Whether it’s the Two Santa Claus theory, the Household Budget theory, or just a plain failure to take leadership each brings something important to the table, but doesn’t quite get us all the way there.
I want to posit something that I think can explain how things may be the way they are now and what I think we need to do about it:
Politics is about representation. We, the voters, elect someone to represent our interests and help to push legislation to effectuate it. Their job is to work for us and get things done.
Voters, on the other hand, are busy folks and that has only increased over time. Most of us don’t have the time or inclination to understand the wonkiness of the 2/3s rule and how the conservative veto can stop an agenda in its tracks. They just want it to get done.
This dynamic leads to one thing and I think it can explain the very dichotomy we are dealing with today. NO ONE IS GETTING WHAT THEY WANT OUT OF OUR STATE GOVERNMENT. Democrats are seeing programs cut and schools lay off teachers and our legislators are making deals with the devil to salvage what they can. Republicans can’t muster any significant changes because they just don’t have the clout and at the same time end up having to agree to tax increases in the face of their constituents ire.
Understanding this dynamic can explain everything. The average Dem or Indy voter doesn’t care about how things get done, just that they get done, but they don’t trust the legislature can make it happen. This would explain the low approval ratings. Because of this they think why should they just give over more money when they aren’t getting what they want now? This would explain the apparent unwillingness to raise revenue.
However, when the voters trust those in charge, there is a willingness to consider new revenues. I live in a very red county in Northern California. You constantly hear the refrain of “government waste” and “no new taxes.” Yet, most of the time when my local school district asks for the approval of a property tax bond, it passes. Why? Because the voters like what’s happening at the school, take pride in its successes, and trust its leadership. I think it’s the same with the state. We will see a changing dynamic in the electorate when they see a legislature get the things done that they want. Of course, without a 2/3s majority, this won’t happen.
So here’s my May 20th strategy:
It is imperative that we reach 2/3s majority in both houses of the legislature. We must no longer blow off the “red” districts as unattainable. We are within sight of that goal and it can be done. We must recruit quality candidates for every district. Once found, the grassroots and the party must assist them with training, outreach and financing. We must assist in voter registration drives and GOTV. We can no longer accept the mindset that it’s too tough so we won’t bother.
Once we achieve our goal things will change. We can enact an agenda and govern effectively. We can show the voters that things are getting done and earn back their respect and trust. Basically, we can finally do what 65% of the public has been sending us there to do.