Diversity and division in the nation’s most populous state have led some pundits to declare that California is “ungovernable.”
Writing in the Los Angeles Times, George Skelton refers to a conversation 18 years ago between California Sen. Pete Wilson and political guru Stu Spencer:
“Then-Sen. Pete Wilson was agonizing over whether to run for governor. Old pal Spencer – a political adviser to presidents and governors, most notable Ronald Reagan – invited Wilson to his isolated Oregon ranch for some frank talk…
“‘You’ve got the best job in the world right now – senator from California,’ Spencer told Wilson. ‘I don’t know why’n hell you’d run for governor. California is ungovernable.’”
According to Skelton, Spencer was referring to the state’s wide diversity of viewpoints and geography, along with constant population growth and lack of political discipline.
Wilson ran anyway and won.
This month Skelton called Spencer, now 80, and asked if he still felt the same way about California.
It might be even worse today, was Spencer’s response.
“This public is more polarized because we’re more diverse,” he said. “We’ve got a bigger mass of bodies and we’re more diverse economically. People are divided about what they want … There’s not much unanimity or desire to compromise.”
Skelton cited several factors that may make California ungovernable, among them: Legislative term limits that produce inexperienced, shortsighted lawmakers. A two-thirds vote requirement for almost any legislation involving money. Outrageous gerrymandering that all but eliminates two-party competition in many districts and leads to the election of “rigid ideologues.” A ballot initiative system that has “run amok” and become a tool of special interests.
The state also has a governor – Arnold Schwarzenegger – who is “stubborn, overreaches and has to be loved,” says Skelton, who concludes: “The Capitol today lacks strong, effective leadership in every position of power. That, along with a sorry system, makes the state look ungovernable.”
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