Politics won’t help state’s problems


Dan Walters of the Sacramento Bee outlined Californias changes for the worse during a Los Altos Morning Forum talk last week.

Politics is the means by which a society deals with its common problems – and California is failing, journalist Dan Walters told a Los Altos Morning Forum audience Oct. 8.

Walters is a longtime columnist for The Sacramento Bee and author of “The New California: Facing the 21st Century” (California Journal Press, 1992).

The California state government, established more than 150 years ago, was based on a federal system that is even older. When the U.S. Constitution was drafted, the country was agricultural, rural and only white men with property could vote. The country had just fought a war for independence and the Founding Fathers put many checks and balances into the Constitution.

The California Constitution added the recall, the referendum and the requirement that some issues, such as the budget, must earn more than a majority vote. As a result, the state can accomplish little, as seen by the recent budget impasse, Walters said.

This system worked in past years, when the state was more homogeneous, but how has it changed?

There has been economic change. The California economy was resource-based (agriculture, mining, lumber, etc.) until World War II. Then it rapidly switched to an industrial economy with manufacturing of autos, petrochemicals, steel and more.

Now the single largest segment of the state’s economy is health care, according to Walters. California’s economy has become a service economy, which changes the nature of work and the education required for that work.

Another important change has been an increase in population. The state continues to grow rapidly, largely because of immigration and a high birth rate, Walters said. This exacerbates problems such as traffic and the need for housing, jobs, education and water. California has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country at 7.7 percent.

Foreign immigration has brought cultural changes, he said. Students in the California schools come from homes where approximately 100 different languages are spoken. And after two years of drought, the state has done nothing to increase water supplies. The state has yet to face the problems caused by such changes.

Nothing in the state gets done because there are so many competing interests, Walters said. For example, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger promoted a Health Insurance Initiative that failed in the Legislature because there were too many conflicting points of view.

Walters said that the California government needs a major change – perhaps even a constitutional convention to rewrite the constitution completely. He recommended a systemic overhaul.