More Democracy At Election Time

FEB. 2, 2011


All the ills of democracy can be cured by more democracy,” said Al Smith, the New York governor and presidential candidate in 1928 (pictured at right). He was the last small-government Democratic presidential candidate  in the Thomas Jefferson-Grover Cleveland tradition.

Unfortunately, Smith lost to big-government, protectionist Republican Herbert Hoover, who plunged America, and the world, into the Great Depression. The next president was big-government, big-spend, big-tax Franklin D. Roosevelt, a Democrat who prlonged the Great Depression for another decade and imposed the socialist programs and mentality that now have bankrupted America.

Fast-forward to 2011: Gov. Jerry Brown wants a vote of the people on his $12 billion tax-increase proposal. He has accused Republicans who oppose such a vote of being anti-democratic, on Monday in his State-of-the-State address even comparing them to Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak.

Yet Brown now is rejecting Republican calls to put a tax cut on the ballot next to his tax increase.  “You’ve got to get real here. Don’t say I’m going to solve this problem by creating a bunch of new problems that we’ll have even more trouble handling,” Brown huffed.

But what about democracy? Denying the people of California the right to vote on tax cuts,  make Brown like dictator Mubarak – hypocritical.

This Mubarakian anti-democratic posture is reason enough to recall Brown, just as we did his ex-chief of staff, Gov. Gray Davis, back in 2003. And with former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger ineligible to run because of term limits, maybe as new governor we’d get somebody better than Herr Shriver-Kennedy.

And let’s not limit the vote just to Brown’s immense tax-increase idea and the Republicans’ tax-cut idea. Give voters a smorgasbord of choices. Let’s have these votes, too:

* Bring back the Gann Limit, which limited increases in state spending to the increases in population and inflation. It would have prevented the demented spending increases of the Davis-Schwarzenegger decade. Voters, tricked into thinking they were promoting the building of roads, voted effectively to repeal the Gann Limit  in 1990 with Prop. 111. Give voters another chance to restore this essential budget control.

* Give voters a choice in what departments are cut. For example, Prop. X might read, “Cut education spending 5 percent.” Prop. Y might read, “Cut education spending 10 percent.” Prop. Z might read, “Cut government-worker pensions by 5 percent.” And so on.

* Put on the ballot a measure amending the California Constitution to get rid of the guaranteed payment of pension funds to retirees. According to a Stanford University study, California’s residents — even little children just born — are on the hook for $500 billion in liabilities to the retirees. If the pension fund investments don’t perform well, then the money comes from the general fund. Why should a manual laborer in Jose’s Muffler Shop be forced to pay for the $200,000 retirement of a government worker? That’s just not fair. Let voters decide whether they want to make it fair.

* End public employee retirees’ health benefits when they turn 65 and qualify for Social Security; sooner if they qualify for some other health-care benefit, such as that of military retirees. A U.S. General Accounting Office study found that these costs could be even more than pension costs.

* Go back to a part-time Legislature, which we had until the late 1960s, and begin a two-year budget cycle. Texas enjoys that and the state is thriving as California stagnates. Would such a change be anti-democratic? Just the opposite. Under the current system, legislators spend far too much time in the hothouse of the state capitol, where they are corrupted by the special-interest lobbyists. If, instead, they meet for only three months every two years, they’ll have to spend the rest of their time with real people back in their districts, finding out what’s going on — and even get real jobs to pay their family bills. Democracy demands citizen-legislators, who take a couple of months off every two years from their businesses, jobs or farms to conduct the people’s business — not full-time hacks beholden to those who stuff money in their pockets.

That’s just a start. Give the people a choice, Jerry — a real democratic choice.

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