If you consider yourself an environmentalist, and someone who – unlike libertarians – believes in a strong role for government in our lives, it’s hard to watch what has been done to environmentalism and government in California. Environmentalists have been hijacked by the global warming lobby, and our state and local governments have been hijacked by labor unions. And if you don’t accept the premises of California’s environmentalists today – that reducing CO2 emissions is going to address an urgent environmental crisis at the same time as it helps the economy, or the premises of California’s public employee unions – that public employees are NOT over-compensated and therefore we must raise taxes so we can afford to pay them, you may logically conclude that California is akin to an occupied nation.
Notwithstanding the spectacular failure of the Meg Whitman campaign – more on that later – the problem in California politics is simple. The environmentalists get their backing from Wall Street plutocrats, who have correctly identified the opportunity to trade CO2 “emissions credits” and “offset credits” as the biggest opportunity for them to rob from the poor and give to the rich they’ve ever seen. Public sector unions get their backing directly from California’s taxpayers, since these unions pretty much compel California’s public employees to join and pay dues. Estimates of California’s public sector union total political spending reach a half-billion dollars on politics every two year election cycle (ref. Public Sector Unions & Political Spending). And these unions, just like the environmentalists, are best friends of Wall Street – those unsustainable pensions granted unionized public employees, retirement benefits that are anywhere between 3x and 10x more generous than social security – pour far more money into Wall Street pension funds than any other category of investment in America.
Because environmentalists have shifted their concern from the environment to becoming tools for Wall Street CO2 emissions brokers, and because public sector unions have succeeded in empowering public sector workers but have done nothing for the private sector workers whose taxes fund the public sector, these groups no longer operate in the public interest. While fiscal conservatives have been screaming about this for years, even liberals are beginning to see the light – particularly with respect to the antics of public sector unions, but recently, even the environmentalist agenda has begun to concern conscientious liberals who sincerely care about the public interest.
Which brings us to California’s recent election, where Democrats ran the table for higher state office. Republican Meg Whitman made several mistakes – explored adequately elsewhere – but her failure was illustrative of a fundamental reality in California politics: Democrats don’t have to raise money for their candidates from the grassroots, or from independent businesspeople, because they get their money from Wall Street plutocrats who masquerade as environmentalists (note the crushing defeat of Prop. 23 because it threatened their interests), and from public sector unions. And because election laws preclude a wealthy individual from making a substantial donation to a candidate they choose, the only way a Republican can afford to run for higher office in California is if they are themselves wealthy. That is a tough one – how many good candidates are wealthy? How many wealthy people make good candidates? And even if they would do a great job – and Meg Whitman probably would have done a great job – they are tainted by their access to money from the get-go. “Queen Meg.” The irony is almost too much to bear.
For these reasons, candidates in California can’t sit on the fence, nor can they adhere to an orthodox conservative ideology. A successful reform candidate in California will have to swing for the fences, identifying phony environmentalists and insatiable public sector unions as the villains in this drama, and courting liberals alongside conservatives down a path towards restoring a government that acts in the public interest. If California simply implemented a 20% headcount reduction and 20% pay-cut across the board to their public sector employees, put a ceiling of 3x the maximum social security benefit onto their pensions combined with a 50% employee contribution, built 3 nuclear power stations and two more reservoirs, most of California’s economic problems would disappear. People who care about the environment, the dignity of workers, and the public interest in general, should wonder why more politicians aren’t asking for these solutions.
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Edward Ring is a contributing editor and senior fellow with the California Policy Center, which he co-founded in 2013 and served as its first president. He is also a senior fellow with the Center for American Greatness, and a regular contributor to the California Globe. His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Economist, Forbes, and other media outlets.
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