By Edward Ring
Edward Ring is the vice president of research policy at the California Policy Center
California’s Republican party has nothing to lose. They’ve lost every battleground district. The Democrats are going to do whatever they want in the legislature. Corporate interests are cultivating competing factions among the Democrats. All the smart money is with the Democrats because the Republicans don’t matter anymore. California’s GOP should seize this opportunity. This is a tremendous moment.
How often does any organization have the chance to experiment wildly, to try something radical, to risk everything, because they have nothing to lose? That’s what faces California’s GOP today. The GOP airplane is in a nose dive. Finding a pilot who will give the plane a soft landing, or prolong the time until the crash, accomplishes nothing. Push the throttle. Pull some Gs. Stress the airframe. Take a chance. Because otherwise, you’re dead.
Trump, for all his tactless bombast and alarming disregard for convention in almost all things, has stimulated political engagement at a level not seen in the last fifty years. Trump’s ability to challenge the premises of America’s uni-party elite on the issues of trade, immigration, foreign interventions, and “climate change,” along with his disregard for the pieties of libertarians and socialists, and his indifference to the encroachments of political correctness – all this may eventually be recognized as having had an extremely healthy impact on America at a critical time.
There are issues specific to California that can “make California great again.” It is not necessary for California’s GOP to select all of these issues. They can pick and choose. All of them address the greatest inequity that Californians confront, but never solve – the criminally high, utterly contrived, scandalously avoidable, punitive cost-of-living in this state.
To make California affordable again, a new, unafraid, assertive California GOP would have to rethink its ideological underpinnings. It would have to violate many socialist and libertarian taboos in favor of pragmatic choices reminiscent of 1950’s California when vast sums of government funds were applied with an efficiency that makes a mockery of today’s tangle of bureaucratic delays and interminable lawsuits.
For example. it isn’t heresy to use government funds, from bonds or operating budgets, to subsidize infrastructure. What’s needed, however, is a determination to set priorities that benefit the people of California, and a willingness to fight through waves of endless litigation to score precedent-setting court victories. Doing this will help ensure that most of the money spent on subsequent projects will go to people who operate heavy equipment, instead of most of it paying people who sit in front of keyboards. Some of these priorities might themselves be heretical, or anathema to special interests, but here goes….
Enact school choice. Don’t just fight a rearguard action protecting the beleaguered charter schools. Approve school vouchers and allow competition between traditional public schools, charters, parochial schools, and private schools. Quit tiptoeing around this issue. California’s public schools are failing. Turn the state into a laboratory for education, and let parents choose which schools their children will attend. A lot of pedagogical debates would be settled pronto, if principals and teachers were able to run their schools any which way they wanted, yet were held absolutely accountable by the parents.
Enforce the Vergara reforms so it is easier to retain quality public school teachers and easier to fire the incompetent ones.
Offer vocational training in the trades as an option for high school students after age 15, including private sector funded apprenticeships for high school credit. Look to the European systems for examples.
Restore the balance in California’s colleges and universities so that the ratio of faculty to administrators is 2-to-1, instead of the current ratio that allows administrators often to outnumber teachers.
End all discrimination and base college admissions purely on merit. Expand STEM curricula so it represents 40-50 percent of college majors instead of the current 15-20 percent. In all publicly funded institutions of higher education, fold all of ethnic and gender “studies” majors into the traditional fields of history and sociology. Consolidate these majors and reduce the number of enrollments to make room for more STEM enrollments.
Get rid of all of the horribly misguided campus “safe spaces” and other malevolent hate-nurturing segregationist boondoggles. Stop appeasing the professional race hustlers. Tell the truth to people of color – California is the best place in the world to thrive, California is a tolerant, diverse society, and all this victim mongering will not make society better and will not make you successful or happy. Say this loud and proud and never back down. Fire the entire diversity bureaucracy.
Criminal Justice and Immigration
Restructure the penal system to make it easier for prisoners to perform useful public services. For example. along with working the fire lines during fire season, they could work all year clearing dead trees out of California’s forests. Use high-tech monitoring devices to reduce costs. Reserve current prisons only for the truly incorrigible.
Support comprehensive federal immigration reform that includes merit-based legal immigration, and attenuates chain migration. Support something, anything, that squelches illegal immigration. If that’s not a border wall, then push for stronger employer verification. Quit agreeing with the Democrats. This is not a “manufactured problem.” It is not in the interests of American citizens, especially in low-income communities, to continue to allow the entry of unskilled immigrants – legal or illegal – and the only people who don’t accept this are either denying basic economics or they are part of a special interest group. Come to some reasonable accommodation with ICE.
Add at least one lane to every major interstate in California, and upgrade and resurface all state highways. Widen and upgrade roads up and down the state. Kill High-Speed Rail.
Begin investigating and facilitating private sector rollout of next-generation transportation solutions, including coordinating the development of aerial taxi corridors as well as high speed “hyperlanes” for next-generation smart electric cars. Prepare for the advent of flying cars, self-driving cars, share cars, ride-hailing, micro-transit companies, and high-speed cars.
Complete plant upgrades so that 100 percent of California’s sewage is reused, even treated to potable quality. Kill the Delta Tunnel(s) and do seismic upgrades on the Delta levees instead – that will have to be done regardless. Build a hatchery to replenish Delta Smelt.
Unlock water markets. If farmers had the right to sell their water allotments without risking losing their historical water rights, municipalities would never have shortages of water. It’s truly that simple, because California’s total urban water consumption – all of it, residential, commercial, industrial – is less than 7 million acre-feet per year, whereas farmers in California consume on average over 30 million acre-feet per year.
Pass legislation to streamline approval of the proposed desalination plant in Huntington Beach, and fast-track applications for additional desalination plants, especially in Los Angeles.
Spend the entire proceeds of the $7 billion water bond, passed overwhelmingly by Californians in 2014, on storage. Build the Los Banos Grandes, Sites, and Temperance Flat reservoirs, adding over 5.0 million acre-feet of storage to the California Water Project. Support federal efforts to raise Shasta Dam. Pass aggressive legislation and fund aggressive legal actions and counteractions, to lower costs and enable completion of these projects in under five years (which is all the time it used to take to complete similar projects).
Work towards a grand bargain on water policy where environmentalists accept a few more reservoirs and desalination plants in exchange for plentiful water allocations to threatened ecosystems, farmers pay more for water in exchange for undiminished quantities, and taxpayers bear the burden of some new debt in exchange for permanent access to affordable, secure, and abundant water.
Permit slant drilling to access 12 trillion cubic feet of natural gas deposits from land-based rigs along the Southern California coast. Build an LNG terminal off the coast in Ventura County to export California’s natural gas to foreign markets. Permit development of the Monterey Shale formation to extract oil and gas. Permit construction of new natural gas power plants.
Promote nuclear power as a solution that not only makes the dawning electric age – from electric cars to rampant, exponentially multiplying bitcoin mining operations – utterly feasible. Nuclear power is only costly because permits and regulations and insurance premiums (mostly to insure against the cost of lawsuits, not actual hazardous calamities) are artificially elevated. Retrofit and reopen San Onofre. Keep Diablo Canyon online and add capacity. Permit construction of “generation 3+” nuclear power plants and prototype micro-reactors.
Housing and the Homeless
Unlock open land for development. Quit acting like there’s not a single square mile of open space that isn’t sacred to the environment. California has over 25,000 square miles of cattle ranch land. If just one-third of that land were developed, California’s urban footprint would double. There’s plenty of room. Subsidize practical new public infrastructure (i.e., roads, not “light rail”) throughout new regions opened up for land development.
Repeal the 2006 “Global Warming Solutions Act” and “Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act” of 2008 and make it easy for developers to build homes on the suburban and exurban fringes, instead of just “in-fill” that destroys existing neighborhoods. Cancel the war on the single-family dwelling, and allow developers (or in some cases even require them) to build homes with large yards again. Repeal excessive building codes such as mandatory photo-voltaic roof panels. Create a regulatory environment that encourages private investment in new housing developments instead of discouraging it.
Allow police to enforce vagrancy laws, even if it means expensive corrective litigation going all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Build inexpensive tent cities for the homeless. Some cities in California have already had success with this tactic. The corrupt and futile opposite extreme is to construct “permanent supportive housing” which in Los Angeles has cost over $400,000 per apartment unit.
Pensions and Infrastructure
Require California’s public employee pension funds to invest a minimum of 10 percent of their assets in infrastructure projects as noted above. They could issue fixed-rate bonds or take equity positions in the revenue-producing projects, or a combination of both. This would immediately unlock approximately $80 billion in construction financing to rebuild California’s infrastructure. At the same time, save the pension systems by striking down the “California Rule” that prevents meaningful pension reform.
Once the California Rule is abolished, prospectively reduce pension multipliers to pre-1999 levels for all future work for all employees, existing as well as new hires. That, along with defending the reforms of PEPRA, might be all it would take.
Vision and Leadership Will Save California’s Republicans
Until California’s GOP is willing to embrace bold policies that will offer California’s struggling middle and low-income communities opportunities for upward mobility, they will remain irrelevant. It isn’t enough to “join together.” It isn’t enough to secure some reliable flow of donor support. To thrive, a political party needs to have a distinct vision of the future, a policy agenda that will achieve that future, and leaders that understand and can express that vision. Those qualities are more important than money. Meg Whitman proved that.
An important reason Democrats win is that they invariably speak with moral authority, whether they deserve it or not. But the moral worth of Democratic policies is shallow. In the name of earth justice and social justice, they have made California the most inhospitable place in America for low and middle-income residents. The Democrats are incapable of compromising on their rhetoric or their policies. They are locked into the ideological straight-jackets of climate change hysteria and identity politics. The Republicans must demonstrate their ability to find the balance that Democrats are incapable of finding. They must promote and enact policies, some examples of which have just been described, that challenge some of the premises of environmentalism and social justice. There is a moral value to providing opportunity by making California affordable. There is a moral value to instilling pride by abandoning race and gender preferences. There is a moral value to embracing policies of abundance – by turning the private sector loose to increase the supply of housing, energy, water, et al. – rather than creating politically contrived artificial scarcity.
One very encouraging sign at California’s state GOP convention of February 2019 was how diverse the attendees have become. Democrats should find this very alarming, because the so-called “people of color” at the GOP convention were not part of the rent-seeking coalition that Democrats have built, looking for reparations and entitlements to compensate for their supposedly disadvantaged status. These were confident, self-sufficient individuals, who valued the opportunity to compete and succeed on their own merits. There were hundreds of Latinos, Sikhs, Indian Americans, African Americans, Asians. More of them than ever, they came to Sacramento to be among fellow Republicans. This should not only trouble Democrats but perhaps it should also trouble establishment Republicans because nearly all of them were enthusiastic Trump supporters.
If you were at the GOP convention last weekend, you could have talked to a Latino whose cousin has a ranch in the Rio Grande Valley. He would have told you why we need border security. You also could have talked to an African American grandmother who has watched hope return to members of her extended family, because they have good jobs in the Trump economy. These people are proud Americans. They don’t want to be patronized or appeased, and more and more, they see right through the Democrat’s game. They want the tough truth. Because honest hard work, reckoned by immutable and evenly applied standards, is the only true pathway to achievement. They are waiting for Republican leadership to fight to make California great again, not attempt to become Democrat-lite.
The themes that will capture new voters can’t just be marketed as “bold.” They have to be bold. There is an alternative vision, embracing solutions, not just identifying problems. It can incorporate some or all of the agenda just set forth. But it will mean launching a sustained assault on the government unions, the extreme environmentalists and their allies, the plaintiff’s bar, and the social justice fanatics that have taken over public education. It will require challenging not their lofty idealism or their proclaimed altruism, but their premises and their methods.
No, we are not running out of land, energy or water, and yes, we will entitle vast tracts of open land for development and build infrastructure including dams and desalination plants and encourage private sector investment partners.
No, if we don’t go “100 percent renewable” by 2050 the planet will not burn up, and yes, we will develop natural gas reserves and build nuclear power plants.
No, we will no longer admit unqualified students to colleges and universities, and yes, we will establish uniform admissions requirements, reserving our enrollments for the finest students in the world.
No, we will not tolerate mediocre results in our public schools, and yes, we will fight for school choice, vouchers, charters, and eliminate union work rules that prevent dismissing bad teachers and protect good teachers if layoffs occur.
No, we will not allow pensions to bankrupt the state, and yes, we will restore pension benefits going forward to pre-1999 formulas, and we will require California’s pension funds to invest at least 10 percent of their assets in California infrastructure projects.
For every no, there is a yes. For every problem, there is a solution. And the moral worth of these solutions must be asserted unflinchingly. These solutions will create an opportunity for all Californians. Fighting for these solutions is risky. It will invite a furious response from the entire Democratic machine. But it could work. And it’s the right thing to do.
Edward Ring is a co-founder of the California Policy Center and served as its first president.
This article was originally published in Fox & Hounds Daily.