Totalitarians run California

Sept. 10, 2012

By Steven Greenhut

SACRAMENTO — The main problem with the California Legislature is not that it spends your money far faster than it comes in, or that much of it is squandered on absurd programs and on the enrichment of those Californians who work for the state. Those are symptoms of the real problem, which is that the Legislature recognizes no natural limits on its power.

If a legislator doesn’t like something, expect a proposal to ban it. If a legislator likes a particular idea, expect plans to build a bureaucracy to implement it.

The only issues off the table involve fixing those budgetary and governmental problems that the state government is legitimately tasked with handling.

When you see supposedly serious efforts to address a problem, such as the Legislature’s last-minute embrace of public-employee pension reform, a closer look reveals such reform is just a fig leaf covering something else.

This particular reform package does little but was passed after polls showed the governor’s tax-increase initiative (Proposition 30) for November was on thin ice. The pension bill is designed to help a political campaign — “Look, voters, we are serious about reforming government, so go ahead and vote yourself (or your wealthier neighbors) a hefty tax hike!”

So another legislative session comes to a close, and a load of new rules and regulations is headed to Gov. Jerry Brown for his signature or veto. California bans and regulations, including those emanating from local governments, have gotten so out of hand that regulation-happy New Yorkers at the New York Times now are making fun of our state.

“Once known for its sunny, freewheeling disposition — a live-and-let-live sensibility rooted in Western ideals and relied upon by generations of surfer dudes and misbehaving Hollywood stars — this region has long been as regulated as anywhere,” the Times reported recently. “Lately, however, cities, school districts and even libraries have been outlawing chunks of what used to pass here for birthright at a startling clip.”

The article focused on new local bans on everything ranging from fire pits on the sand at Newport Beach to the wearing of obnoxious perfumes in libraries in Southern California. But the Times also mentioned the Legislature’s recent “ban on psychotherapy aimed at making gay teenagers straight” as a glaring example of the Capitol’s ban-it mentality.

Invading bedrooms

One of the very few benefits of having liberal Democrats running everything in California, as the cliché goes, is that they won’t be meddling in our bedrooms. But the ban on gay-conversion therapy shows that liberal activists can be even more meddlesome in people’s personal lives than conservatives.

If I were a gay teenager and wanted to become straight, why shouldn’t I be able to go to a licensed psychologist to try out the therapy? Are families incapable of making personal decisions without the oversight of regulators and legislators?

As one psychologist told the Wall Street Journal with regard to the anti-gay therapy, “People report that the therapies exacerbate their own struggles and distress.” He said it can hurt teen’s self-esteem and sense of well-being.

Lots of things can harm our self-esteem, but that doesn’t mean the Legislature should ban them. Huge budget deficits and pension liabilities hurt my psychological sense of well-being — but I don’t expect the Legislature to assuage my feelings by dealing with those matters, even though they are issues that legislators urgently should be handling.

Another psychologist quoted by the New York Times got it right when he called the ban an attempt to intimidate therapists and undermine parental rights.

Sen. Ted Lieu

Sen. Ted Lieu, the Torrance Democrat who authored the gay-conversion therapy ban, called the therapy “quackery,” but now teens and parents are more likely to head to real quacks — shamans without licenses or training.

Or they will turn to religious practitioners. Even California’s legislators don’t have the power to ban therapy in those settings, thanks to religious freedoms.

Lieu’s office recently sent out a statement boasting of the 17 bills he authored that have been approved by the Legislature. But Lieu, who apparently is competing for the title of “California’s Ultimate Nanny,” is sadly typical in Sacramento.

In addition to the gay psychotherapy ban, Lieu is proud of his bills that crack down on used-car dealers who offer high-interest-rate loans to their customers, and forbid landlords from requiring tenants to pay their rent online. Is there no area of life, not matter how petty, that willing buyers and willing sellers can’t negotiate without governmental interference?

Lieu also authored a bill to speed up state payments to people who are victims of corporate fraudsters — “smooth-talking hustlers,” as Lieu refers to them. I see nothing in his list of bills that protects California residents from the smooth-talking hustlers who run the Capitol, and promise us every good and noble thing known to mankind, but can’t even deliver us an honestly balanced budget.

Last December, Lieu threatened legislative action against the Lowe’s home-improvement chain after it pulled its ads from a TV show called “All American Muslim.” Even if you accept the always politically correct Lieu’s contention that pulling the ads was bigoted, shouldn’t private companies have the right to pick and choose where they advertise?

Lieu did author one good bill, which celebrates the anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Constitution. That makes it even more ironic that he and his allies spent most of the legislative year shredding the values in the document they want to celebrate.

The Constitution was designed to put boundaries around government so that it protects our life, liberty and property without intruding on our freedoms. California’s government, in its hubris, recognizes no such limits. Until Californians rediscover the importance of limiting their government, we will be at the mercy of the petty totalitarians who run the Capitol.

Steven Greenhut is vice president of journalism at the Franklin Center for Government and Public

Integrity; write to him at [email protected].

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