Friday, September 20, 2013

U.S. v. California

This past week was Admission Day, the holiday marking the date – Sept. 9, 1850 – that California was admitted into the Union.
Maybe 163 years is too long for this marriage.
Yes, Democrats hold the White House and the U.S. Senate in Washington DC, and they have the governorship and big legislative majorities in Sacramento. But that hasn’t cut down on the California vs. DC sniping. If anything, it seems to have ramped up the conflict, as different factions of the Democratic Party battle over issues and the direction of Democratic politics, coast vs. coast.
The array of issues is surprisingly long, and go beyond the hot button of Syria (President Obama was for bombing, at least for a while, and Californians, like much of the country, were against it).
  • Schools and testing. The state is moving to eliminate testing for a year while California schools transitions to the Common Core curriculum, and Washington isn’t happy. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said that schools and students need the test results, that California’s move violated federal rules, and that he would seek to cut off federal education funds for the state if California didn’t reconsider.
  • Transportation. Washington’s tactic of threatening money for California to get its way isn’t limited to schools. The U.S. labor secretary threatened to cut off transit funding if transit workers were not exempted from changes to the state pension law. Gov. Brown responded by agreeing to an exemption – while preserving the state’s right to fight the federal government in court over whether federal law protects the pensions of transit workers from state reform.
  • Prisons. This is the California vs. the feds war that never ends. The federal courts want state leaders to reduce the prison population. But they either won’t (politics) or can’t (depending on whom you ask, the prison guards or the gangs or no one at all really runs the prisons). California’s latest “plan” to fix the problem is to avoid fixing the problem, first by asking for more time for the courts, and then, if that doesn’t work, spending money temporarily to put off the problem for a few years.
  • Immigration reform. California is (wisely, in my view) giving driver’s licenses to unauthorized immigrants. In signaling his approval of the legislation, Gov. Brown said in a statement: “This bill will enable millions of people to get to work safely and legally. Hopefully, it will send a message to Washington that immigration reform is long past due.” Amen.
  • Immigration enforcement. The feds have a program called Secure Communities that allows for people arrested to be held for immigration enforcement, including deportation. California leaders understandably don’t like it and say that it’s optional.
  • High-speed rail. The feds, along with the Brown administration, have been working to advance the state high-speed rail project, even as majorities of Californians, and previous backers of the project, turn against it.
  • Gun control. It’s advancing in the state legislature. In Washington, gun control is going nowhere, as Democrats believe it’s too dangerous an issue.
  • Surveillance. The U.S. government, for reasons it can’t explain with any coherence, thinks it’s a good idea to force California’s leading technology companies to help it gather lots of data on those companies’ customers. This is destructive to the reputation and businesses of those companies, which have to compete around the world. Not that the security state in Washington seems to care.
Then there’s health care – an issue where California and DC seem to be on the same page. But give it time, and you can bet there will be more conflict. The Affordable Care Act hasn’t been fully implemented yet.

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