The Slow, Agonizing Decline of California

In August, Rolling Stone magazine wrote a piece entitled, “Jerry Brown’s Tough-Love California Miracle”. The article, written by Tim Dickinson, opened with a piece showing the 75-year-old California governor surrounded by a ray of light. The picture bears a certain resemblance to a painting one might find in a Catholic Church, with the light of God radiating out from a saint. They hailed his leadership as a “global model”.

Brown was not the first in his family to run California, nor is this the first time he has held that job. His father, Pat Brown, was California’s governor in the 1960s before being defeated by Ronald Reagan. When Reagan moved on to the national stage, Brown ran for governor and was elected in 1974. To put this in perspective, Barack Obama was twelve years old when Brown took office. Being long in the tooth should not disqualify a man from holding a political position, but Brown has little record to show for it. His most recent tenure in office is far from the success as portrayed in Rolling Stone.

The economic situation in the Golden State is a mess. Once cost of living is considered, nearly one forth of California residents live beneath the poverty line. The state’s unemployment rate is among the nations highest. The exact number varies from report to report, however the San Diego Union Tribune placed the figure at a staggering 18.3 percent (the statistic was among “Californians who want to work full time”. This may have included those working part time jobs). That number may be an overestimate, but even the lowest statistics put the state’s unemployment rate at nearly 9 percent. Moreover, the state government is drowning in astounding levels of debt. The state’s Budget Crisis Task Force stated in their report that the state’s debt was at least $167 billion. The report also asserted that the high end of the range for the state’s debt was around $335 billion. That is greater than the combined wealth of the six richest people on earth.

A National Review article written in response to the Rolling Stone one brought up an interesting question. How is California in a state of economic disaster? This question is genuinely a perplexing one. In Hollywood, California is home to the epicenter of the entertainment business. Silicon Valley is the hub of the huge and growing technology sector. The state has several of America’s top universities and many of its most successful companies. California has prosperous farms, a highly successful wine industry, incredible natural resources, and a tourism sector covering everywhere from Yosemite National Park to Beverly Hills. By all accounts, making a state as blessed with natural and manmade assets work financially should be relatively easy. And yet the state struggles.

Jerry Brown is up for reelection in 2014. Most pundits have said this race will be his for the taking. I wouldn’t be so sure. He could very well be upstaged by a well run Republican challenge or even a centrist Democrat in the primaries. Recall that in 2009, nobody believed Chris Christie had a chance in deep blue New Jersey. A similar result, although unlikely, is a nagging possibility threatening to bring the saint like picture that many have of Jerry Brown crashing down.

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The Quiet Ohio Revolution

The rest of America should take a look at Ohio.

Currently our nation is faced with debt problems and a far to high unemployment rate. We do not need to look to other countries for solutions. A success story in dealing with similar problems exists in our own country.

In 2010 Ohio was at a low-point. The state’s job creation ranking was hovering around 47th place and the state had 89 cents in the bank. As then candidate for governor John Kasich pointed out, most toddlers have more than 89 cents in their piggy banks. In 2010, incumbent governor Ted Strickland lost in a close race to Kasich in a year marked by a resurgent GOP.

This new conservative leadership didn’t start off terribly well. On early issue was Senate Bill 5, a law restricting collective bargaining rights. It went down in flames during a special election.

It was not long after this defeat that Kasich and his allies began to resurrect their administration and their credibility. Kasich, who was a leader of the Clinton era balanced budget effort, balanced the state’s budget and lowered the income taxes. By the end of 2012 Ohio was 4th in the country in job creation and first in the Midwest. There has been bipartisanship in this effort as well. The governor partnered with Democratic Cleveland mayor Frank Jackson to spur redevelopment in the city. Today the state unemployment is well below the national average.

Kasich has also shown the willingness to compromise on certain issues, especially the Medicaid expansion that has irritated the state legislature. This combination of conservatism and compromise has done well for the former Fox News host. He now has a 54% approval rating including an impressive 63% rating among the lucrative 18-29 group (source: Quinnipiac University Polling, June 24, 2013).

For all the failures of the Republican Party at the national level, strong leadership exists at the state level. It’s not just in Ohio. Rick Snyder brought Michigan back from the brink and Chris Christie has done great things for New Jersey.

The problems of the United States today looks remarkably like those faced by Ohio in 2011. The president and the congress could learn a lot from the quiet revolution that has occurred in Ohio in recent years.