Who’s really at blame if the government defaults?

The battle over the federal debt ceiling that’s currently being fought by government officials and legislators is yet another example of the political posturing that’s so prevalent these days.

On one side, you have Democrats, who believe that the debt ceiling should be increased automatically or removed altogether, no matter what level of debt Uncle Sam accumulates, and that it should be done with the support of Republicans.

On the other side, you have Republicans, who occasionally remember that they are against big government spending, especially if they’re in the minority when the debt ceiling needs to be raised.

Consider Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, railing against Republicans for saying they won’t vote for a bill that funds the government until December and includes a debt ceiling suspension. He accuses them of wanting the federal government to shut down and to default on its debt.

Don’t fall for it. Yes, defaults are bad — which is why nobody wants that.

Thankfully, there’s a difference between refusing to raise the debt ceiling and defaulting on our debt. What’s more, as Brian Riedl of the Manhattan Institute reminds us, Democrats currently hold the White House, the House and the Senate, and they could have raised the debt ceiling all alone without the Republicans.

All they had to do, he writes, was to “include debt limit instructions in either of the two budget resolutions that they passed this year,” allowing them to increase “Washington’s borrowing authority to the reconciliation bills — which are not subject to filibuster and thus can pass the Senate with only the 50 Democratic votes.”

Yet they probably didn’t do that so their members wouldn’t have to cast a vote acknowledging all of the spending and borrowing they approved. But now they’re dragging Republicans into their mess, hoping to either get political cover for raising the debt ceiling or let the GOP get the blame for a government shutdown.

Incidentally, Republicans aren’t wrong to be outraged by the $3.5 trillion spending bill Democrats are pushing through reconciliation, most of it unpaid-for by those who will receive the benefits, piled on top of trillions of dollars for COVID-19-relief spending and an already vast deficit. Republicans argue that blocking this level of spending is another reason to oppose raising the debt ceiling.

Democrats correctly contend that there is a cost to not raising the debt ceiling immediately, though there’s also a cost to allowing this astronomical spending to go through. It’s just not as obvious because most of the costs will materialize in years to come. But it doesn’t make it any less immoral.

That’s why, back in 2011, I favored using the debt ceiling as a pressure point to extract some entitlement reforms. The political environment was completely different back then. Most Republicans seemed to be on board with the idea that some fiscal responsibility was prudent, and so were many Americans who made overspending a theme of the 2010 midterm elections.

However, the strategy failed when all we got were weak spending caps that Republicans and Democrats repeatedly lifted if they got in the way of their insatiable hunger for spending.

This is not an argument for giving up or getting rid of the debt ceiling limit. But it is an argument to remind readers that we wouldn’t be having these fights if it weren’t for the numerous expansions of the entitlement state (programs like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security) approved by past Congresses and administrations. These provisions are impacting us today and will continue to impact us into the future, so long as both sides refuse to implement reforms.

Democrats have long said they won’t do it. However, those Republicans complaining about President Joe Biden’s spending spree are part of the problem, too. Just look at what happened when Republicans were in power.

Former President George W. Bush oversaw the creation of Medicare Part D. Under former President Donald Trump, Republicans refused to touch Social Security and Medicare, and they embraced the creation of a federal paid leave program and the equivalent of a universal basic income for kids. There’s no denying that Republicans are part of our fiscal problem, too.

Raising the debt ceiling without a strong commitment to entitlement reform is irresponsible, but empty political gestures accomplish nothing, either.

Short of a massive burst of growth triggered by some future innovation, our only option is to convince the American people that more spending will ultimately come to bite them and their children in the behind.

There is no better time than the debt ceiling showdown for that.

Veronique de Rugy is a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

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The recall failed because the GOP lost its way

The recall was never going to be close.

It closed out election night losing by around 30 percentage points. As the days went by, that narrowed slightly.

I know what a few polls said, but many more said otherwise. Maybe it should have been closer, but still not close.

And that’s not because of voter fraud, not because of ballot harvesting, not because of the media or any of the other common scapegoats.

It’s because Californians loath Republicans.

Harsh, I know — I’m a Republican and I hate writing it. But don’t take my word for it, simply listen to our fellow Californians.

Republicans continue to get blasted in statewide elections. And in down-ballot partisan races, like congressional and legislative, the long-term trend shows Republican elected officials continuing to slip away. And as for Republican voters, the registration numbers speak for themselves.

Californians are talking loudly, why aren’t Republicans listening?

Republicans used to thrive in California. Republicans were governors for most of the 20th century and were elected statewide regularly.

Over time though, the state changed in many ways, few of which were helpful to the Republican cause, and instead of adapting and becoming a viable alternative to Democrats that works for California, Republicans have increasingly gone in the opposite direction of the state.

In public polling, Republicans are usually on the wrong side of the top issues from the majority of Californians. COVID and the environment are perfect examples where Californians want one thing, and Republicans want something completely different.

Many of my fellow Republicans think things will snap back sooner or later once Californians get sick of one party rule.

Quaint, but probably not going to happen.

First, there’s the problem of voter registration — it doesn’t mean everything, but partisanship is one of the best predictors of voter behavior.

Republicans are around one quarter of the electorate. In 2003, a month before former Gov. Gray Davis was recalled, Republicans were 11 percentage points higher.

That’s a huge drop. But in raw numbers, it’s even more pronounced. Since 2003, the deficit has grown from approximately 1.3 million voters to almost 5 million — Democrats basically outnumber Republicans 2 to 1.

In other words, Republicans begin every statewide contest down 5 million votes.

If a statewide election were a basketball game — the average NBA team scores 111 points per game — Republicans would begin the game 111 points behind.

Instead of seeing the obvious math problem, many make up excuses like voter fraud.

But the truth is that California Democrats don’t need to commit voter fraud — they will almost certainly win regardless. But it’s easier for con artists to claim fraud because the alternative would be to admit Californians aren’t buying what they’re selling and that they need to do something different.

Yet Republicans don’t want to do something different; Republicans just want to YELL LOUDER!

The sad thing is that Californians agree the direction of the state needs to change. In a recent poll conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California, a plurality of voters said the state was headed in the wrong direction.

What’s the problem? As much as Californians don’t like Democrats, they really hate Republicans.

While a very slim plurality of voters have an unfavorable view of the Democratic Party (49 percent), a whopping 69 percent of voters have an unfavorable view of Republicans.

To put it another way, fewer people believe in vampires (18 percent) than believe in Republicans, which is encouraging. But Republicans poll way behind the belief of the existence of alien UFOs (41 percent).

In theory, it’s a straightforward fix: Register more Republican voters, broaden our appeal by choosing great candidates and have the party dump a bunch of money in a charm offensive.

Except it’s not that simple. There’s a limited market for unsalable goods.

And even if there was an effective rebranding strategy, Republicans would never agree on it because what we think of as the Republican Party is actually two parties: The establishment and the populists (think: Sen. Mitt Romney and former President Donald Trump).

While these two groups have a lot in common, they are worlds apart on both substance and style, making cohesion nearly impossible.

It’s working in places like Ohio, but in California, where Republicans need to win independent voters and disaffected Democrats in order to compete statewide, the differences seem impossible to reconcile.

What excites the populists, repels persuadable voters — things like conspiracy theories, fealty to Trump, allegations of voter fraud, defying public health recommendations, opposing kneeling in the NFL and saying outrageous things to troll liberals.

And while the populists are running the show, centrist Republicans like me — who still read National Review and are more concerned with stable, solution-oriented governing, low taxes, good schools, opportunities for all and the Constitution and generally don’t read wack websites that condemn FDA-approved vaccines but support animal de-worming medication or whatever — are caught in the middle.

The late William F. Buckley famously said: “I’d be for the most right, viable candidate who could win.” That formula worked for a long time as Buckley and his brand of conservatism dominated American politics for around half a century.

But candidate viability is either something populists no longer value or it is not something they have any ability to determine.

Of course, establishmentarians get it wrong at times. But the establishment didn’t lose an unbelievably safe Alabama Senate seat by nominating an alleged pedophile.

I’ve been personally told by populist activists that the Republican Party would be better off if they could get rid of all the moderate Republicans. The populist delusion is that they’ll win with fewer voters.

If anyone wants to break the Democratic one-party rule that is objectively failing to solve many problems in the state, then the solution isn’t doubling down on unelectable candidates or another recall tantrum. The solution would be to become more electable.

Maybe that’s not possible. You can’t change what’s in people’s hearts. And you certainly can’t get them to stop talking about it.

But many of us are prepared for the hard work and compromise required to build a winning coalition that could succeed in California and improve this state we love so much.

Maybe a lot of people who call themselves Republicans aren’t up for that; maybe they should hurry up and Idaho and get out of the way.

Matt Fleming is a member of the Southern California News Group’s editorial board. You can follow him on Twitter @FlemingWords.

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California needs an alternative to the GOP

The outcome of the recall election was Gavin Newsom 64%, Donald Trump 36%.

A similar result can be expected next year as well. Donald Trump will be the Democrats’ opponent in every race in the state, from governor to United States senator to the California Legislature — and, as a result, the Democratic Party will keep its monopoly position over all statewide offices in California and its two-thirds control of both houses of the Legislature.

This is not healthy for California — especially for Democrats. The voices of reform within that party will be silenced by the decibels of anti-Trump noise.

Many California Democrats worry that their children have to move out of state to afford a home or to find a job whose pay can keep up with state taxes and cost of living.

Many Democrats are grateful for Prop. 13 so that the taxes on their homes don’t skyrocket, jeopardizing their retirement in California.

Many Democrats want the public schools to focus on fundamentals that will train their children for quality careers, rather than a curriculum that checks off the boxes in a politically correct agenda.

Many Democrats want to be judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin, in admission to state colleges or getting a job in state or local government.

Many Democrats want California’s roads fixed quickly, efficiently and permanently — whether or not by a union construction firm.

Many Democrats want the money we approved for water bonds to be used to build water storage as was promised.

Many Democrats see California’s windfall budget surplus squandered in one-time transfer payments to favored groups instead of replenishing the rainy-day fund to cushion the next economic downturn.

Many Democrats doubt they get the highest value for paying the highest taxes in the country.

Many Democrats care about the homeless living in unsanitary conditions along San Francisco’s Market Street and Los Angeles’ underpasses — and they care, as well, for the small businesses and law-abiding citizens whose daily life and work takes them by those encampments.

Many Democrats are concerned about the crime that causes neighborhood convenience stores to close up, raises worry about the security of their homes and causes them to look out on the street when a car alarm starts to sound.

California has been judged the most hostile of all 50 states (and even the District of Columbia!) by leaders of companies who decide where to expand and to hire people, in poll after poll over the last 20 years. Democrats care deeply about that. Without a healthy business environment, there is a shortage of good paying jobs, union and non-union.

All of these concerns will be submerged next year, as they were during the recall election.

The winning formula for the majority party, in California politics, is to ignore all of these issues because Donald Trump is such a perfect opponent. Unchallenged, the elites who run the Democratic Party will replicate the decisions they’ve made that have led us to our deep discontent. They have no reason to change because they’re winning.

As for the California Republican Party, its label is irretrievably tarnished. Elected leaders have cowered before the threat of losing in a primary. These timid souls deserve the characterization hurled at them: clones of President Trump. Against their better judgment, they have been silent or complicit in policies that have ballooned deficits, stifled international trade and withdrawn from alliances — positions that would have shocked Barry Goldwater or Ronald Reagan. The role of constructive critic has given way to uncivil, name-calling firebrand.

Grievance politics has taken over the Republican Party. Identity politics has taken over the Democratic Party. Californians need a new party, a party “for the rest of us,” the Common Sense Party. Our membership includes twice as many former Democrats as former Republicans. All who care more about solving problems than demonizing opponents are welcome to join.

Tom Campbell is a professor of law and of economics at Chapman University. He was a congressman, California state senator and finance director of California. He left the Republican Party in 2016 upon its nomination of Donald Trump. He is in the process of forming a new political party in California, the Common Sense Party.

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SCOTUS has wrongly usurped the state legislative process on key issues

A couple of years after the end of World War II, a U.S. Supreme Court justice expressed concern that the court was picking and choosing which parts of the Bill of Rights would be binding on state governments and which would not.

“Some are in and some are out, but we are left in the dark as to which are in and which are out. Nor are we given the calculus for determining which go in and which stay out,” wrote Justice Felix Frankfurter. “If the basis of selection is merely that those provisions of the first eight Amendments are incorporated which commend themselves to individual justices as indispensable to the dignity and happiness of a free man, we are thrown back to a merely subjective test.”

That was 1947, in a concurring opinion in the case of Adamson v. California. Adamson was appealing his murder conviction and death sentence, arguing that his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent had been violated at his trial, because state law allowed the prosecutor and judge to tell the jury that his refusal to testify might indicate guilt. By a vote of 5-4, the justices ruled against him.

“It is settled law that the clause of the Fifth Amendment, protecting a person against being compelled to be a witness against himself, is not made effective by the Fourteenth Amendment as a protection against state action,” the majority opinion declared.

At the time, it actually was settled law that the Bill of Rights in the U.S. Constitution could be completely violated by state laws, except for the exceptions carved out by the Supreme Court. That’s what prompted Justice Frankfurter’s concern that the court’s rulings risked becoming “merely subjective.”

And here we are. In the past week or so, three U.S. Supreme Court justices have expressed concerns about the public perception that they are partisan politicians in black robes. Justice Amy Coney Barrett told an audience at the University of Louisville McConnell Center that media reports do not accurately depict “the court’s reasoning” as the basis for decisions, instead portraying the justices as “acting in a partisan manner.”

Justice Clarence Thomas, speaking at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, said the justices do not make decisions based on “personal preferences.” He, too, complained about the media, saying the characterization of the justices as being “like a politician” is a problem that is “going to jeopardize any faith in the legal institutions.”

Justice Stephen Breyer recently voiced similar sentiments. In an interview while on a book tour, he sought to push back against the view that the justices are “junior league” politicians.

The comments appear to be something of a campaign against proposals to increase the number of justices on the Supreme Court, as a presidential commission studies the issue. Justice Thomas warned that “we should be really, really careful” before “destroying our institutions.”

But it’s the “merely subjective test” problem identified by Justice Frankfurter in 1947 that has put the institution at risk of destruction. A close look at American legal history reveals that the U.S. Supreme Court has spent nearly the last 100 years selectively “incorporating” parts of the federal Bill of Rights into the Fourteenth Amendment, which bars any state from denying liberty to any person. This process began in the 1920s, long after the Civil War. As recently as 1900, in the case of Maxwell v. Dow, the Supreme Court said the first ten amendments to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, “were not intended to and did not have any effect upon the powers of the respective states.” That decision was not an outlier. “This has been many times decided,” the court pointed out.

Over the decades, the justices invented subjective balancing tests with names like “strict scrutiny” and “intermediate scrutiny” to determine when and how far a state law may infringe a particular provision of the Bill of Rights. The final effect of these decisions is to place the justices in the position of creating policy.

Whatever the merits of the policies so created, this process has had an extremely distorting effect on our politics. For example, confirmation hearings for federal judges are politically contentious because they are now the last chance for Americans to have any say at all about what the law will be on many issues that once were decided by elected, accountable state representatives.

Abortion is one of those issues. In 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court decided the case of Roe v. Wade and sharply limited state power to restrict abortion. There is no constitutional amendment protecting the right to privacy, which was interpreted into existence by the Supreme Court in the 1965 case of Griswold v. Connecticut. Anything that’s interpreted into the Constitution can be interpreted out again.

That may happen. On September 1, by a vote of 5-4, the Supreme Court said it could not order a temporary halt to a Texas law that bans abortion after approximately six weeks of pregnancy. The decision was portrayed by the president, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and nearly all media coverage as the certain death of Roe v. Wade.

When news of that September 1 ruling broke, people were voting by mail in California. It may have been a significant factor in energizing Democratic voters to turn out and defeat the recall.

Because the Supreme Court has usurped the state legislative process on so many controversial and important matters, politicians have had a free pass to go to the extreme edge of issues without worrying about building a coalition to pass legislation. This is great for fundraising and television appearances. It is also the untold story behind the deep partisan division in our country today.

Write Susan Shelley: Susan@SusanShelley.com and follow her on Twitter: @Susan_Shelley.

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Battle over sports betting in Calfiornia shapes up

More than two dozen states have already legalized sports betting following a 2018 Supreme Court ruling that struck down a federal ban, and now California gaming interests are stepping into the arena for a heavyweight fight.

Native American tribes have qualified an initiative for the November 2022 ballot that would legalize on-site sports betting at tribal casinos and horse-racing tracks. However, other types of licensed gambling businesses, such as card rooms, would be prohibited from offering sports betting, and the initiative authorizes private lawsuits to enforce the law.

That didn’t sit well with the card rooms. Joining with city officials, they filed their own initiative in August, now called the “California Solutions to Homelessness, Public Education Funding, Affordable Housing and Reduction of Problem Gambling Act.” The measure calls it “unconscionable that illegal operators are reaping hundreds of millions of dollars in profits from California consumers without providing any tax revenue to support the needs of our state residents for public services and improving our economy.”

The card rooms’ initiative promises a “safe, legal online and mobile sports wagering market that is honest, regulated and taxed” at the rate of 15% plus 1% of the gross, plus a hefty licensing fee. Eligible operators would include “but are not limited to” racing associations, federally recognized Indian tribes, licensed gambling establishments and professional sports teams—Major League Baseball, National Hockey League, NBA, NFL, WNBA and Major League Soccer teams would be allowed to offer online or mobile wagering.

Now a third initiative to legalize sports betting has been filed. Backed by major gaming companies including DraftKings, BetMGM, FanDuel, and Bally’s, it’s called the “California Solutions to Homelessness and Mental Health Support Act.” The proponents say it complements the initiative from the Native American tribes by legalizing online wagering, but only if the operator has partnered with a tribal casino or horse-racing track. The measure sets up a new fund in the state treasury to collect the tax revenue and split it 85-15 between the “Solutions to Homelessness and Mental Health Support Account” and a “Tribal Economic Development Account.”

You can bet on this: if the state’s experience with legalizing marijuana is any guide, high taxes and excessive regulation are sure to keep the illegal bookmakers raking it in.

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Republicans ignore hard recall lessons at own peril

SACRAMENTO – On the eve of California’s second-ever gubernatorial recall election, polls showed dire news for those hoping to bounce Gavin Newsom from office and replace him with someone with a more conservative mindset. Despite my issues with the governor, I was far more disappointed with the statements from recall supporters than from the polling data.

Before voting was even finished, Republican “leaders promoted unsubstantiated claims that the race was rigged or compromised by misconduct,” AP reported. It noted that leading replacement candidate, Larry Elder, said, “there might very well be shenanigans.” And Donald Trump asked, “Does anybody really believe the California Recall Election isn’t rigged?”

Apparently, Republicans only trust election results when they emerge as winners. That poses a long-term problem for the health of our democratic system, but – in California, in particular – it poses an existential problem for the GOP. When a party refuses to live in the real world, it’s not going to make sensible decisions that help it get back in the political game.

I talked to some conservative activists in the weeks before the vote, and many of them were living in a fantasy world. Some were sure that the polls weren’t accurate because of liberal polling bias and the recall really was on track, while others believed the nonsense about fraud. After Newsom scored an impressive 64-percent to 36-percent victory, recall supporters were looking for everyone but themselves to blame.

Let’s see, a Democratic governor was victorious in a strongly Democratic state by margins that approximate the usual Democrat v. Republican breakdown, and the best people can do is claim voting irregularities. Sorry, but recall advocates ran one of the worst campaigns in memory. They failed to make a compelling case to non-Republicans.

I covered the 2003 recall of Gov. Gray Davis, whose incompetence in the face of rolling electricity blackouts and budget deficits led to widespread voter frustration. The electorate was more Republican 18 years ago than it is today, but still was heavily Democratic. I’d argue that the list of Festivus-like grievances against Davis pales in comparison to the ones against Newsom.

The current governor has restricted charter schools, which are an educational bright spot. Violent crime is rising, homelessness is spreading civic disorder and wildlands are on fire. There’s the Employment Development Department scandal and much to critique in Newsom’s handling of COVID-19. The budget is in great shape (if we ignore the state’s unfunded liabilities), but there are myriad reasons for disgruntlement.

Yet in 2003, recall supporters built a broad-based coalition that focused on the key issues that upset Californians of all political persuasions. They recruited a candidate, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who not only was a popular celebrity – but who carefully pitched a moderate, bipartisan and generally optimistic governmental reform message.

This time around, recall advocates made it perilously easy for Democrats to turn this into a partisan “Republican recall” race. I like Larry Elder and have admired his past years of libertarian-oriented punditry, but he and other GOP replacement candidates campaigned as if they were appealing to a mostly conservative electorate.

In my rural area, pro-Trump signs and those obnoxious blue-stripe flag desecrations accompanied virtually every recall-signature table. Doubling down on stridently conservative messaging in a state where conservatives are a dwindling and fleeing minority (and having insufficient resources to run compelling ads), doesn’t seem like a winning strategy. Maybe that’s just me.

The “yes” vote on the recall question received roughly the same percentage as Republicans routinely receive in statewide races. How surprising. Conservatives have long advocated for a take-no-prisoners campaign, but they couldn’t even reach John Cox’s dismal numbers. He lost to Newsom in 2018 by 24 percentage points, which is a nail-biter compared to Tuesday’s showing.

I’ve often criticized the largely unprincipled state GOP, but at least the establishment makes an attempt to woo Decline to State and Democratic voters. The problem started with the recall petition. Instead of focusing on broad concerns, it chided Newsom for favoring “foreign nationals, in our country illegally,” as if immigrants rather than homegrown politicians are the problem.

Recallers should have recruited the right candidate before they started collecting signatures. The campaign initially put pressure on Newsom to moderate some of his coronavirus restrictions, but as the race heated up and the GOP ran right, it pushed Newsom further to the left to shore up his base. The downside always was obvious. If the recall didn’t succeed, it would leave Newsom and the supermajority Democrats stronger than ever.

“Democrats have been sharpening their attacks on Republicans over the pandemic, former president Donald Trump and other polarizing topics, and now, emboldened by victory in California’s recall election, party leaders are seeking to further escalate hostilities ahead of the midterm elections,” the Washington Post concluded. It’s hard to disagree.

Go ahead and blame voting issues. As the midterms approach, I’m sure that will be a winner.

Steven Greenhut is Western region director for the R Street Institute and a member of the Southern California News Group editorial board. Write to him at sgreenhut@rstreet.org.

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Are recall system changes reforms or power grab?

Win or lose, could Gavin Newsom be the last California governor to face a recall election?

As final ballots are cast and election officials begin counting the votes for and against Newsom, critics of California’s recall system contend that it’s too easy to put a recall on the ballot and too easy for an unqualified candidate to become governor with only a relative handful of votes.

Former Gov. Gray Davis, who was recalled in 2003 and succeeded by action movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger, is one advocate of change, telling Politico, “This is a game of Russian roulette, and at some point, for sure, a governor who got more votes than his successor will have to leave office because he failed to reach the 50% threshold.”

Recent polling does indicate that there is fairly strong support among California voters for overhauling the recall system that has been a fixture — although only rarely invoked — of the state constitution for 110 years.

The latest indication of that sentiment is a new poll from UC-Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies, which found that a strong majority of Californians want to keep the recall in some form, but “also favor reforms that would impose somewhat higher hurdles in bringing future recall elections to the ballot.”

Its results mirror those of a July poll from the Public Policy Institute of California, which also found that the reform with the strongest support is “holding a runoff election between the top two replacement candidates if no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote.”

Other options for change floating around include changing the threshold of signatures to force an election from 12% of the total vote in the previous gubernatorial election to 25%, allowing recalls only for cause, such as illegal or unethical conduct, and making it more difficult for replacement candidates to qualify for the ballot.

State Sen. Ben Allen, a Redondo Beach Democrat, proposes in Senate Constitutional Amendment 3 to change the current system of having two questions on the recall ballot — whether the incumbent should be ousted and secondly, which of the replacement candidates should win. It takes a majority of voters to oust an officeholder but the successor needs only a plurality.

SCA 3 would, instead, have one question. The incumbent would appear on the ballot along with the challengers and the top vote-getter, whether incumbent or challenger, would serve for the remainder of the term.

SCA 3 remains on hold but it’s obvious that its effect, if approved by the Legislature and voters, would be to make recalls almost impossible.

In fact, virtually every proposed “reform” would lessen the chances of a recall succeeding, including legislation now awaiting Newsom’s signature or veto that would ban paying signature gatherers for each name they collect in recalls, referenda and initiatives. Sen. Josh Newman, a Fullerton Democrat who was recalled and then later recaptured his Senate seat, is the author of Senate Bill 660.

Were California contemplating the creation of a recall system from scratch, rather than dealing with one that’s 110 years old, some of the proposed changes would make sense. However, one cannot divorce the proposed “reforms” from the state’s current political orientation.

It’s evident from the polling results and the criticism that Democrats, who already dominate California politics, are the ones who want changes that would, in effect, solidify their control even more by making it more difficult, or even impossible, to oust an incumbent from the governorship or any other office.

One person’s reform is another person’s power trip.

CalMatters is a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters. For more stories by Dan Walters, go to calmatters.org/commentary

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California finally cracks down on bad cops

Whatever else the California Legislature did or didn’t do this year, it finally — and very belatedly — took a long-needed step toward ridding the state of bad cops who victimize people they are supposed to be serving and taint their honorable profession.

Last week, after years of unsuccessful efforts to punish errant officers, the Legislature approved a bill creating a process for lifting the certifications — in essence, their licenses — that allowed them to continue wearing badges.

It made no sense that officers fired from one department for bad conduct could keep their certifications and find jobs elsewhere. But while the state has for many years de-licensed doctors, lawyers and other professionals proven of misconduct, it lacked authority to move against cops — one of only four states with that obvious regulatory gap.

The lack of a decertification process testified to the immense political clout that law enforcement unions have wielded in the Capitol.

For decades, the unions and politicians of both parties have maintained a mutually beneficial charade. Governors and legislators would provide what the cops wanted, such as high pension benefits and special protections from oversight and discipline, and in return the unions would trumpet politicians as supporters of law and order.

Recently, however, a surge of very questionable police killings, particularly those of Black men, fueled demands for reform, including punishment of cops who are needlessly violent.

In 2018, only a couple of miles from California’s Capitol, Stephon Clark, who was suspected of vandalizing cars, died in a fusillade of bullets fired by two Sacramento officers who erroneously thought they saw a gun in his hand.

Clark’s death touched off massive protests in Sacramento and demands for reform after the local district attorney declared that the shooting was justified under state law.

The Clark incident generated enough backlash that San Diego Assemblywoman Shirley Weber (now California’s secretary of state) persuaded her fellow legislators and Gov. Gavin Newsom to change the law governing police use of deadly force, limiting it to protecting officers or others from death or serious injury.

The political heat was turned up even more after last year’s infamous death of George Floyd with Minneapolis Officer Derek Chauvin’s knee on his neck. It triggered a nationwide reaction and eventually resulted in Chauvin’s murder conviction and imprisonment.

The furor over the Floyd case gave state Sen. Steven Bradford some additional momentum for his drive to decertify bad cops. Bradford, a San Pedro Democrat, couldn’t get legislation passed in 2020, thanks to opposition from police unions and other law enforcement groups, but he succeeded this year after softening some provisions of his measure, Senate Bill 586, just before final votes.

Under the revised bill, California’s Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) would be empowered to strip an officer’s certification, but only on a two-thirds vote and after an advisory board recommended the action.

Bradford hailed SB 586 as “the first of its kind in California.” However, the law enforcement groups remain opposed and advocates of reform are concerned that it requires too many hoops to be as effective as they want.

The state’s other licensing agencies are often criticized for being too cozy with those they regulate and too lenient. Given the concessions that Bradford had to make to get SB 586 passed, that could happen with POST as well. But at least it’s a start on something that should have happened decades ago.

CalMatters is a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters. For more stories by Dan Walters, go to calmatters.org/commentary

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California’s economy needs stability to grow, vote no on the recall: Maria Salinas

If business has an enemy, it is the instability and uncertainty in markets, in supply chains, and now let’s add in the recall election. The state of California, the 5th largest economy in the world, is distracted with a gubernatorial recall.

The Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce opposes the recall election. We understand that in today’s complex times, business must be able to rely on consistency in political leadership, just as we seek stability in the markets and systems which keep our economy moving. Recalling the governor will only lead to a tumultuous and unnecessary interregnum where political wrangling and uncertainty will detract from the state’s economic and health relief efforts, and we will not support it.

While disruption in business can lead to innovation and major advances, the governmental disruption caused by recalling Gov. Gavin Newsom will hinder the progress being made to ensure our communities stay safe and recover from the pandemic. Stability in government is good for the economy and should only be interrupted under extreme circumstances. This recall comes nowhere close to meeting that standard.

Recalls were devised to be used with evidence of malfeasance and risk to the public. This point is particularly important given that Californians currently face a wide range of threats to post-pandemic economic recovery, including the expanding resurgence of coronavirus variants, struggles with the state’s power grid, devastating wildfires, and a historic drought. Even with differences in policy, it is irresponsible to distract our elected officials from these critical issues facing everyday Californians. It’s just not good governance.

Proponents of the recall claim frustrations over shutdowns, business restrictions, and a worsening housing and homelessness crisis are what justify the interruption. It is impossible to deny these are issues which require solutions, but without evidence of malfeasance or risk to the public, exercising our voice in deciding who is governor should occur during regularly scheduled elections, the next of which is happening in 2022 regardless of the recall outcome. It’s painful to see the expensive campaigning on every side of this election – a waste of money, time, and effort that should instead be spent on fighting the pandemic.

As the governor campaigns to fight off the recall attempt, he hopes his relief plans can ease the pain for business owners who are struggling to stay on their feet after a year of closures and restrictions. While the pandemic restrictions have been credited with minimizing COVID mortality rates, many small businesses were still left on shaky footing. The governor responded by allocating crucial relief to small businesses in the form of billions in grants and tax credits that kept many afloat who otherwise may have had to shut their doors.

We know there is more that can be done to keep California globally competitive and a leader in the nation, but this recall election is clearly not the answer. We invite the governor to engage with business leaders who are innovating and creating the jobs for a new economy.

He can boast 4.1 million small businesses across California – with an honorable mention to Los Angeles, where we have the highest concentration of business owners of color in the nation – all of whom represent the vast majority of the state’s business community, employ nearly half of its total workforce, and create two-thirds of all new jobs, making them the critical drivers of economic growth and mobility throughout California.

There is no doubt these have been challenging times for businesses, communities, and government alike. Yet, none of these challenges rise to the level of creating more unpredictability by changing gubernatorial leadership in a recall election.

The people of California will have the opportunity to choose whether or not Newsom deserves a second term in less than a year.

In the meantime, let’s focus on the work at hand to ensure our businesses, employees, and communities can thrive and prosper in California.

Maria S. Salinas is president and CEO of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce.

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Legislature shouldn’t budge on $4.2 billion funding request for bullet train

Former Governor Jerry Brown once defended the cost of the bullet train project by citing the need to sacrifice for the future. It took generations of sacrifices, he said, to finance medieval cathedrals.

In 2008, Californians voted for future generations to pay back $9.9 billion in debt to build the bullet train. It’s 13 years later, and a medieval cathedral still travels faster.

Not all of the money voters authorized has yet been appropriated by the Legislature, and the California High-Speed Rail Authority wants the remaining $4.2 billion right now. Gov. Gavin Newsom supports that request, but lawmakers in the state Assembly have other ideas. Speaker Anthony Rendon and others would like to move those funds to rail projects in the Bay Area and in Southern California. Talks between the two sides broke down recently, and it appears that nothing will be decided until January at the earliest.

This argument is less about California’s funds than the money that could come from the federal government as part of the multi-trillion-dollar infrastructure legislation. President Joe Biden, who helped to get $8 billion for high-speed rail into a federal stimulus bill when he was vice president during the Obama administration, is friendly to rail funding, and Democrats narrowly control both houses of Congress. Advocates think the window is open and the spigot should follow.

But that may not happen. California’s boondoggle project has lost the support of key state lawmakers including Assembly Transportation Committee chair Laura Friedman, D-Glendale, who has argued that high-speed rail funds should be re-routed from the Central Valley’s bullet-train construction site to commuter rail in Southern California.

If California lawmakers pull money away from the bullet train, it’s less likely that congressional appropriators will commit significant federal rail funds to the project.

If Democrats lose control of the House of Representatives or the Senate in 2022, it’s likely that the chances of federal funding for the bullet train will decrease.

And if Gov. Gavin Newsom is recalled, his replacement could move to cancel the high-speed rail project entirely.

So the race is on. In August, U.S. High Speed Rail Association president and CEO Andy Kunz called California’s bullet train “visionary” and predicted, “As soon as trains are operating, the criticism will quickly fade away like yesterday’s news, and everyone will be thrilled to have such a fast, easy, reliable mode of transport—not seen in America yet.”

What we have seen does not inspire confidence. The High-Speed Rail Authority is currently spending $500 million per year on building a bullet train from Merced to north of Bakersfield, and if there is a significant market for a 200-mile-an-hour trip between those Central Valley cities, it was not mentioned in the ballot measure that voters approved in 2008.

Something else that wasn’t presented to voters is the high-speed rail project’s current major funding source, which is 25% of the revenue that comes into the state’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund from the cap-and-trade program. Cap-and-trade is effectively a hidden tax that raises the price of gasoline and diesel fuel as well as electricity.

Current plans project that the Merced-to-Bakersfield segment can be completed in 4-5 years for $22.8 billion. That rests on the hope that there will be no delays or cost increases. Perhaps negotiators should hold their next meeting in a medieval cathedral.

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