The so-called Golden State may be geographically huge and home to enough electoral votes to choke a chad-consuming cow but it's hard for us outsiders to grasp just how dysfunctional California has become. The state that gave us Ronald Reagan and tax revolts has lately gone slumming. Government mismanagement of energy and an unwillingness to check spending has ballooned the state budget to dangerous levels. High labor costs and a thicket of red tape are scaring off investors and driving jobs -- particularly Hollywood jobs -- elsewhere. The dot.com bust has knocked the tech sector on its back. The size of the state's economy, which Governor Gray Davis used to like to talk about, was recently overtaken. By France.
And the voters will likely respond at the polls by shrugging. The Democrats have a vice grip on the legislature, the courts, the congressional delegation and the governor's office -- even if they are not particularly beloved in those positions. The Republicans are too clueless, too divided and too unpopular to mount effective opposition even to such lame schemes as 2000's tobacco "Meathead tax" -- so named because it was spearheaded by Archie Bunker's old sparring partner Rob Reiner.
The California government, the schools and the various media are dominated by social and economic lefties, who have become quite good at acquiring and using power. Meanwhile, the right is divided between social conservatives, who nominated gubernatorial candidate Bill Simon, and more socially (and, often, economically) liberal old guard Republicans, who would rather choke on a frog than see a conservative Catholic in office. In short, as presently constituted, California's politics are so very… Canadian.
However, like Canada, the Tarnished State's current consensus is wafer thin and held together by the shaky notion that the governmental status quo cannot be altered -- ever. This may go a long way in explaining why the secessionists in the San Fernando Valley have faced such contempt in the press these past few years. They've been charged with greed, tarred as racists, and it has even been insinuated that they're Republicans. All this over an attempt to untangle themselves from one of the most corrupt and expensive city bureaucracies the world has ever known.
From one perspective, it's hard to see what all the fuss is about. Los Angeles and the Valley already constitute two basically separate entities in the minds of many, including the U.S. Postal Service. Nor will any sensible analysts dispute that the Valley has gotten a raw deal in terms of spending. The $127 million worth of "valimony" that the secessionists would agree to pay the city every year -- on a declining scale set to last for two decades -- represents the amount of money that the Valley would have been bilked for every year that it wouldn't have got back in terms of spending. Under the terms of this agreement, the Los Angeles government gets its money while the Valley gets its city and everybody's happy.
But look at the secession vote through the lens of the static California consensus and the conflict comes into focus. The success of the Valley in getting secession on the ballot has sparked several other credible independence movements, including one in Hollywood. If the vote is even close this November, the drive for self-government is not likely to be confined to the Los Angeles area.
According to the Los Angeles Daily News, Mayor Hahn has seen the petition writing on the wall: If secession comes short of the necessary votes in this election, he will petition the state assembly to pass legislation to make this sort of thing much more difficult in the future. However, once roused, the impulse for secession is not so easily put down. If the people cannot express their displeasure at the ballot box, it will be expressed in other forms -- forms which I'd rather not contemplate.