Recall May Be GOP's Only Power Left

Recall May Be GOP's Only Power Left

APRIL 5, 2011


Say what you will about the defects of the two-party system. At least it’s not a one-party system nationally. But California increasingly is a one-party state, with Democrats dominant and Republicans down and out.

Some areas of America have been one-party areas. Probably the longest and largest was the “Solid South.” After the Civil War, Reconstruction brought many Republicans to power because local pro-slavery Democrats had been Confederates, and were kept from office by the occupation of the U.S. Army.

But once Reconstruction ended, Democrats ruled the roost in America’s Southern states until the 1960s — almost 100 years. During the Solid South era, the Republican minority largely was made up of blacks and liberal Republicans.

The two main activities of Solid South Democrats were maintaining Jim Crow segregation laws and getting large defense contracts for their districts. Because Solid South Democrats seldom if ever faced any serious Republican opposition, they rose to seniority atop powerful committees in Congress.

Two of the most famous were Wilbur Mills of Arkansas, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee in the House; and Lyndon Johnson of Texas, Senate Majority leader in the 1950s. That’s why NASA’s headquarters is in Houston.

But there were drawbacks. Even though Southern states generally were pro-business and air conditioning had been developed, Northern-based businesses were reluctant to expand there because of the racial problem.

Blacks long had worked in Northern industries. Henry Ford, in particular, hired them in his factories to work alongside whites. My late father remembered that in the early 1930s his classmates at Henry Ford Trade School, which trained young boys to become tool-and-die makers, included blacks. An HFTS diploma was a ticket to a good job in a machine shop.

And during and after World War II, millions of blacks migrated from the South to Chicago, Detroit, Gary, Pittsburgh and Northern cities to work at high-paying factory jobs.

To open factories in the South, industries would have to bring down some of their workers from the North to set up shop. It was uncomfortable for blacks to go back home under the Jim Crow laws. That changed as the civil-rights movement desegregated the South.

Insular Politics

One characteristic of one-party areas is that they become insular. With no competition from other parties, the dominant party goes to extremes. That seems to be happening in California under one-party domination.

Although in a different way, like the Sold South of decades ago, California’s Democratic majority also seems determined to repel jobs from being created here.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was mostly ineffective as governor. And he did sign such anti-business bills as AB 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 and his 2009 tax increases. But he did veto numerous anti-business bills sent to him by a Legislature dominated by liberal Democrats since 1997.

That duty now follows to Gov. Jerry Brown, himself a liberal Democrat. Indeed, it was Brown who, in his first pass as governor, signed the 1978 Dills Act that allowed collective bargaining for government-employee unions. Doing so made these unions by far the most powerful political players in the state. Today, the political equation for California virtually is:

Unions = Democratic Party = Government

New Governor, Old Bills

Not surprisingly, some of the old bills that Schwarzenegger vetoed are coming back like bad pennies. Reports the L.A. Times:

Dozens of proposals vetoed by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger are zooming through the Legislature anew, with the ruling Democrats hoping Jerry Brown will sign them.

But getting the governor on board may not be easy.

Plans to boost the use of renewable energy, make it easier for farmworkers to unionize and give illegal immigrants access to college aid are among the more than 60 bills rejected by Schwarzenegger, a Republican, that could soon go before Brown, a Democrat.

The Times noted that the situation is similar to that under Democratic Gov. Gray Davis. When he took office in 1999, he also enjoyed a Democratic majority in both houses of the Legislature. The Times quoted Davis:

I know exactly how Gov. Brown feels. There is a great deal of pent-up demand. I’m sure they [legislators] are licking their chops.

The Times wrote that Davis got in trouble with members of his party his first year in office because he vetoed a record number of bills for a Democratic governor of California.

But more needs to be said. For one, Davis signed into law the pension-spiking laws that now are devastating state and local budgets. Back then, in the midst of the dot-com boom, the state treasury was overflowing with tax dollars from income and capital-gains taxes. The business cycle, seemingly, had been repealed. California, like the Beach Boys promised, would surf through an “Endless Summer.” The surfing would be on both the beach and the cornucopia of the Internet.

Then the dot-com bust hit. Then the real-estate boom-bust washed through the state. Now, California’s pension tsunami is bankrupting the state.

Second, Davis restrained himself somewhat because in his early years he actually was considered presidential timber. Vetoing Democratic bills gave him a national reputation as a moderate, sort of a bland Bill Clinton.

Third, Davis’ actions led to his recall. These actions included panicking during the electricity crisis of a decade ago, running up deficits and doubling the car tax without a vote of the people.

Recall Jerry?

Which brings up something that’s different now from the Solid South. California has popular recalls of politicians.

If he gets too extreme, Gov. Brown could be recalled like Davis. Of course, the first recall didn’t turn out well. Schwarzenegger proved not to be up to the task of governing.

But if Gov. Brown signs too many anti-business bills, and the state’s economy starts tanking again, he could find himself in Gray Davis recall territory. It only takes a couple of million dollars to put a recall on the ballot.

Republicans might do it just for the fun of it. And with their party effectively sidelined for many years into the future, a recall election might be the only way for Republicans again to have a shot at the governor’s throne.

After all, Hiram Johnson, the progressive who started the recall and referendum process a century ago, was a Republican.

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