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Jerry Brown Embraces Democracy

— I just watched Governor Jerry Brown’s State of the State address on YouTube and I was struck by two things. The first was the amount of time he spent looking down at his notes. The second was the number of times he extolled the right of the people to decide. He was talking about their right to vote on whether some tax increases should be extended to help pay for his proposed budget.

We all have a love-hate relationship with democracy. We love letting the people decide as long as they agree with us. When they vote incorrectly we roll our eyes, lament the stupidity of the voting rabble and dream of enlightened dictatorships. Just because the concept didn’t work in Egypt doesn’t mean it can’t exist.

Jerry Brown didn’t think much of democracy when the voters passed Proposition 8. But he likes it today because he thinks Californians are really, truly ready to vote for a tax increase. That sounds absurd, and this is what Republicans kept saying as they responded to the speech and to Brown’s call for a special election.

GOP Assemblyman Martin Garrick of Solana Beach was quoted in the U-T and said of voters, “They have said no, no, and no to any more taxes!” It’s true that California voters said no to a package of tax increases in 2009. In November, San Diego voters said no to a sales tax increase and a parcel tax for schools. That’s three no’s right there.

So why not let them say no again? Because they might actually say yes. A poll by the Public Policy Institute shows a slim majority of California voters approve of Jerry Brown’s budget package of cuts and revenue increases. Fully two-thirds of respondents said the special election should go ahead.

But California government lives under the dictatorship of the supermajority vote. Even to order a special election, the state needs a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to make it happen and that means getting some Republicans on board. With some bullying, Brown may be able to do it. If he can’t, the budget cutting is going to be very ugly.

I grew up in the Midwest in the 1960s and '70s and my father had a cousin who lived in Northern California. My dad’s cousin Jack generously offered to let me live with his family for my last year of high school so I could establish state residence and attend University of California. In those days, a state college education in California was free.

I didn’t go to live at Jack’s house but that’s not the point. My point is that those days of California prosperity and state government largess are long gone. Now, California has high unemployment, poor schools and a lousy credit rating. We have to decide what we’re willing to pay for and what kind of state we’ll live in.

I say hold a special election and put the tax extensions on the ballot, alongside the budget cuts that would be necessary if the other is voted down. That way the people will decide and they will be accountable.

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