Opinion: The worst opinion piece you’ll read on California’s elections


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Brain dead.

That’s the briefest and most accurate description for this Wall Street Journal piece by Allysia Finley on California’s election results. She fills her bad attempt at political snark with so many cliches and tired right-wing riffs on California that you could probably reproduce much of the article without having read it first. This excerpt captures the piece’s proud ignorance:

You appropriately give your government low marks — 28% approval for outgoing Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, 16% for the Legislature — yet you continue to reelect the politicians who got you into this mess. Not a single incumbent state legislator lost reelection this year, including one Democrat who died a month ago (no joke). What’s scarier is that you’ve just given almost all of the keys to statewide offices to Democrats.


Jerry Brown will be your new (old) governor. This is the man who acted as a gateway drug to your spending addiction three decades ago when he gave public-sector employees collective bargaining rights. Helping enforce your wacky laws will be Lt. Gov-elect Gavin Newsom, the San Francisco mayor who flouted state law by allowing same-sex marriage. On the plus side, he has nice hair and loves you just the way you are.
I guess I’ll start with Brown.

Yes, he signed legislation giving public employees the right to unionize. But to trump up this fact as indicative of California’s collective insanity ignores Brown’s more mixed record as governor, including his enthusiastic implementation of Proposition 13, which won him the support of anti-tax crusader Howard Jarvis. The point has been brought up enough times -- mainly in response to Meg Whitman’s and other conservatives’ efforts to misrepresent Brown’s record -- that you’d figure his critics would have quit typecasting him as the liberal pariah who brought down the California empire.

Finley’s Newsom dig is even more off-base, considering his largely ceremonial role as lieutenant governor involves infinitely less than ‘helping enforce [California’s] wacky laws.’

Regarding Finley’s point about incumbent state legislators, she’s right as far as she goes. But Californians also passed Proposition 20, the redistricting measure that promises to make incumbent victories rarer in the future. And her dead legislator point about state Sen. Jenny Oropeza, who passed away two weeks before the election, is shamelessly glib. Oropeza represented an overwhelmingly Democratic district, one in which, like almost all in California, the challenging party almost never has a chance. You could say Oropeza’s reelection says less about the Democrats who elected her and more about the Republican she was up against.

Which brings me to my larger point, one that I’ll relate as a note to Finley, just as she does with us Californians: It isn’t us; it’s you. We have no problem electing Republicans to high posts, even privately wealthy ones with almost no government experience. But you gave us Whitman and Carly Fiorina, each of whom ran against more seasoned (and arguably more electable) Republican opponents in their respective primaries. Whitman’s prodigious spending stood in stark contrast to Brown’s more humble operation, and Fiorina couldn’t shake her reputation as a failed Silicon Valley CEO who fired thousands of employees. In a year conservatives started out ahead, Republicans offered two candidates who had little more going for them than personal wealth.

Finley touches on several worthy points, including California’s crushing unfunded pension liability and the state’s byzantine system of regulatory boards and commissions. But using the state’s systemic problems to make a point about inept legislators -- and Democratic ones only, please -- doesn’t advance the conversation already underway in California about meaningfully addressing our deep problems.

And a joke about Birkenstocks in the biography? Only the most curmudgeonly of California’s conservatives would laugh at that one.


-- Paul Thornton