Last week on his well-regarded California’s Capitol blog FR friend Greg Lucas (who covered the policy and politics of the State Capitol as a correspondent for the San Francisco Chronicle for nearly two decades) took the opportunity to write about some of the politics of the State Senate race in California’s First District. Due to the unfortunate passing of Senator Dave Cox (who ultimately lost a long battle fighting cancer) there is a special election taking place to fill that seat – a Republican seat. There are three GOP candidates running – two sitting Assemblymembers, Roger Niello and Ted Gaines, and one former Assemblymember, Barbara Alby, who is currently serving as an appointed Acting Member of the Board of Equalization (she lost her bid for the GOP nomination for the 2nd BOE District last June).
To be more specific, Lucas posted up a mail piece (see it below this paragraph) sent out by the Gaines for Senate campaign, drawing a sharp contrast between Gaines and Niello on two major votes – the 2007 state budget (which increased the size of the state budget by $10 billion) and the 2009 tax increase deal (which was the largest tax increase in California history, hiking sales, income and car taxes). The mail piece references “leadership” and Gaines makes the case that in opposing more government spending, and in opposing higher taxes, he is providing the right kind of leadership for the 1st Senate District.
Lucas goes on to basically make his case for why he thinks it is actually Niello is the one exhibiting “leadership” in the legislature – and that the votes highlighted by Gaines are proof of that. Lucas basically makes the case that leadership involves taking on a key role (Niello was a chief budget negotiator), arriving at a compromise, and then having the courage to vote for that compromise even though it may be a painful pill to swallow politically.
I will certainly agree that Niello was showing “leadership” in these votes – the question that has to be asked is whether or not this is the right kind of leadership. Let me first make it clear that the California Republican Party, of which I am an officer, has taken no position in this special election primary, nor have I endorsed a candidate. The State GOP did take a position against billions of dollars in higher taxes that Niello voted to place on the ballot as part of that terrible 2009 budget deal that included the major tax increases mentioned above.
In critiquing both Lucas’ conclusion and more broadly Niello’s “leadership” on especially the 2009 budget deal, it is important to look at the big picture problem that we have in Sacramento, from the perspective of the taxpayer. For over four decades, by and large, ultra-liberal Democrats have dominated the state legislature. Add to this that we have seen a rise of special interests in Sacramento, all coughing up large amounts of political donations to advance their individual causes, so that the amount of campaign funds that politicians collect from the so-called “Third House” far outpaces the donations that average taxpayers make to political candidates.
I won’t drag you through history lesson about the ballooning size of our state budget going into this current recession, or go through each tax in California to remind you that Golden State businesses and residents are literally amongst the highest taxed in America. Suffice it to say that the biggest winners in California politics for a long time now have been those who seek to increase the size and scope of government (through taxing, borrowing, shifting, gimmicking) – to include both the special interests to seek to see that money spend on their particular causes (in the case of the insidious public employee unions, it is about adding employees, and increasing their salary and benefits) and the liberal ideologues in the state legislature who seek to use government to redistribute wealth, taking from some groups of people to bestow upon others.
When you look at this tragic situation, it becomes painfully obvious that it doesn’t take much “leadership” to support policies in the Capitol that increase spending or increase taxes – the entire institution and the massive interest group complex that has risen around this spending is geared to support those who embrace such an agenda. Whether in the name of “justice” or “compromise” – the question is what kind of leadership is necessary to lower taxes, and to decrease spending? One of the only silver-linings of this recession has been forced reductions in government spending since, thank goodness, state politicians cannot print money.
The point of this commentary is to say that in my humble opinion, Ted Gaines clearly deserves credit for showing the right kind of leadership in standing up for taxpayers and against higher taxes and higher spending. After all, in state-government-speak, “compromise” typically means that California businesses and families are going to get their pockets picked to finance egregious government spending.
I remember how disappointed, frustrated and angry I was when I first learned that six Republicans voted with all of the Democrats to hit taxpayers with two years of a $15 billion (with a “b”) tax increase. I wrote about it a lot on the FlashReport. It is still upsetting because, to a great many of us, that moment was the moment of truth. Could solidarity among Republicans, all of whom except Niello had signed a pledge against increasing taxes (and Niello was right their rhetorically, albeit he did not sign on the line)? In the end, the resolve crumbled. Big government won.
But that day did produce leaders – taxpayer heroes. Much can be told about the behind-the-scenes story of that infamous 2009 vote to increase taxes, and while only six Republicans cast the horrible votes, a number of others quietly conveyed moral support. But not Ted Gaines. Gaines stood tall for taxpayers, and against those tax increases. He showed the kind of leadership that I would look for in an elected representative.
Speaking of my blogging a lot at the time of the 2009 tax increases, the Gaines For Senate campaign just dropped a piece of mail in which a quote of mine from last year is prominently featured. You can check it out below.
In conclusion, Greg Lucas provides some great insights on the workings (or lack thereof) of the State Capitol. But in this case, I think that he comes at his analysis from a much different perspective than do I. He might say I am wrong in this case, and he may say the same of me. That said, I think that my evaluation more closely mirrors the perspective of First Senate District primary voters. But I guess we’ll see what happens in less than three weeks.