California must be the most geographically diverse state in the Union. From Mount Shasta to Death Valley, from Big Sur to Yosemite, we have everything. If you’re homesick for Kansas, we can even offer the Central Valley.
But all of this treasure obscures a sad reality: We have perhaps the country’s worst leadership and screwiest citizenry. This was brought into the fore with the recent uproar over a hunting trip taken by Fish and Game Commission Chairman Dan Richards. While on a hunting trip to Idaho, Richards was asked to bag a mountain lion, and he did so with gusto. The problem is that while such hunting is legal in Idaho, California outlawed it in 1972. Richards has refused to resign, despite the insistence that he do so by the moral paragon known as Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom and 40 Democratic Assemblymen—a bid later unceremoniously dropped.
I find their moral outrage disturbing—especially since California’s environment faces a direct threat that is within their purview: the impending closure of 70 state parks. This is outrageous on several levels. One is purely practical—the parks department is one of the very few branches of state government that turns a profit, one that the Assembly regularly loots. Why aren’t Newsom and the gang waxing indignant over this?
There is so much in California’s bureaucracy that could be trimmed without the damage to California’s revenues and heritage these closures would cause. The California Commission on the Status of Women comes to mind (even our undead governor sees the need to cut it), as well as the California Office of Problem Gambling.
But two-thirds of California’s revenues apparently pay state workers’ salaries, benefits, and pensions. That seems exorbitant. Until the issue can be scrutinized without public-service unions dominating the proceedings, little can be done, although ever louder voices are murmuring.
Two other measures may help tremendously. It is true that both are symbolic, but in this area symbolism is important. It is why, again for the purpose of browbeating Californians into voting for higher taxes, those branches of government that most directly affect most citizens (such as the parks and the DMV) are the first to be cut. So I offer these reforms in that spirit.
The first is a return to a part-time legislature. There is budding support for this idea, which would resurrect the state’s pre-1966 status quo. It would effectively abolish much of California’s political class. Opponents charge that the pre-1966 legislature was terribly corrupt. This may have been true, but the current one is not only corrupt, it’s far more expensive. Corruption in any legislative body is as endemic as sexual immorality in bordellos, but why should the public pay even more for it?
I also propose that we do away with salaries for public officials. While the idea was that salaries would open up governance to the less wealthy and make our rulership more purely meritocratic, this has not happened. If you cannot afford to buy an election, you wind up selling your soul to someone who can. Moreover, most people leave public office far wealthier than when they entered it. So why not at least do away with their salaries? Whatever we do, we shall have an oligarchy, but if candidates already have fortunes of their own, they may find the public coffers less tempting.
In such an arrangement, a high quotient of our lawmakers might then belong to such organizations as the Forest Landowners of California, the California Outdoor Heritage Alliance, the California Farm Bureau Federation, and the innumerable foundations, philanthropies, and “Friends of…” groups that the well-to-do tend to join in lieu of public service. The amount of real-world knowledge such types could bring to our governance might offset the gang of lobbyist magnets for whom we currently pay through the nose. At least they’d be cheaper.
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