Saturday, September 25, 2004

Donkeys, Elephants, Bear Flags and Tigers, or "Have We Learned Nothing From Siegfried and Roy?"

My last post pointed out the many national and international security reasons why I have cast my lot with the Grand Old Party. There were specifically Californian reasons, also, and I should not neglect them.

A very close left-liberal friend said to me that it was very different to be a Republican in the San Francisco Bay Area than in our own native Chicago suburb. I found her comment to be not entirely true. The area where we both grew up has elected pro-choice moderate GOP Congressmen for at least 25 years. On the especially polarized and "litmus-test" issues of (how to put it delicately for both sides?) family-planning, John E. Porter's successor Mark Steven Kirk received medium scores from the watchdog ProgressivePunch and went against the American Conservative Union. This is the representation chosen by a supposedly rock-ribbed Republican district in that dowdy, old American Middle West. The Great Lakes' suburbia is positively full of surprises.

Another progressive friend, an Ohioan, pointed out that his home state and Illinois were the finest bookends of their region: each having a little bit of every demographic, but not too much of any one. A grouchy but balanced diversity is the unglamorous and pragmatic result.

My Illinoian friend had something of a good point, though. I might have revised her comparison to say that being a Republican in liberal San Francisco is different than being one in Mississippi, for example, according to the estimates of our two previous Left and Right monitors. Were I living in the latter, I would feel a centrist's revulsion about the Trent Lott wing of the party and vote more or less straight-ticket for the little donkey instead of the big elephant, excepting presidential contests.

It is much more accurate to say that it is quite different to be a Democrat in California than in Illinois. At the Congressional level, both of these states are populous and diverse enough to feature some moderates in each major party.

These looks are deceiving, however, when it comes to the style of government at the state and local levels. The divide between suburban centrists and rural hardliners tempers the Illinois GOP. The Windy City is almost a time capsule of an older fashioned governing machine, one that predates the New Deal and simultaneously co-opts the New Left, and would never allow for a Giuliani or even a "Republican-in-name-only" like Michael Bloomberg to win office as they did in New York City. Chicagoan politics of total Democrat domination are built on a foundation of trade unions and civil servants, but with a large dose of blue collar conservatism keeping that bulwark of the statewide party on a somewhat moderate course.

That is not the case in California, despite the presence of some centrist Democrats and plenty of powerful organized labor. Other Democrats in the Golden State have found that their party's long-lasting bicameral legislative hegemony has succumbed to arrogance and excess. Under Governor Gray Davis, the Assembly and Senate were given a freer reign than under Republicans George Duekmejian (served 1983-1991) and Pete Wilson (1991-1999).

(On a related note, bipartisan political consultant and commentator Dick Morris recently compared the state politics of Massachusetts to California's while appearing on a San Francisco radio show. In the former state, a liberal electorate has chosen exclusively four moderate Republican governors since 1990--first William Weld and currently Mitt Romney--to control a Democratic legislature which is not widely trusted. Morris predicted that Sacramento government may soon become the same.)

The California Democratic legislature did not have a completely free reign under Davis, however, and since his inauguration almost six years ago he had annoyed party militants with a limited spate of vetoes at the end of every legislative session.

This very same matter was ultimately enough to tilt many moderate Democrat voters in the other direction, as it became clear what pork-barreling, favoritism and virtual corruption guided the former governor's last-minute decisions in this cyclical scenario. Soon, the emittered swing-voting centrists and independents defected to Davis' recall and replacement by GOP moderate Arnold Schwarzenegger in a 2003 special election. It even turned out that the Democrat Attorney General Bill Lockyer, though voting to retain the incumbent on part one of the ballot, opted against his party's machine politican Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante and selected the victorious liberal Republican instead on part two.

The state legislatrue, unfortunately, has not changed a whit since the 2002 elections, and given the gerrymandered safe-districting regime, it probably will not this year or any time soon. Raging moderate Californian Jill Stewart wrote for the now-defunct New Times Los Angeles and now pens the syndicated column Capitol Punishment, detailing the state's migraine-inducing politics. "As a Democrat, but also a big believer in the need for two parties, I suspect we Democrats have simply ruled the legislature for too long," she lamented recently. "When politicos of either party have no fear of being ousted, rational thought disappears."

Two State Senators are on a quest to restrict the taste-testing of unwashed grapes by pickers. Someone else has a plan to make ALL new buildings in the state according to Feng Shui principles, a wildly expensive and impractical idea. Imagine if all construction from now on had to face the same direction in a land of 35 million residents (and always growing). There are many more debacles, but two legislative Democrat proposals stand out as the worst and the funniest, respectively. San Jose's Sen. John Vasconcelos--and San Jose is not the most radical place in the Bay Area-- wants to lower the voting age to fourteen, which would end all debate about the Bear Flag Republic as the refuge of utopian idiocy. My favorite, however, is West Hollywood Assemblyman Paul Koretz's drive to prohibit the declawing of exotic cats. Jill Stewart: "As one appalled legislative staffer asked me, 'Have we learned nothing from Siegfried and Roy?'" This is a long, long way from the practical bread and butter issues of Chicago's Daley dynasty and its "Irish mafia" on the shores of Lake Michigan. No wonder the people chose a new, more veto-prone governor.

In a world ruled by foolish and extreme Democrats, this one man prefers to be ruled by Republicans.