When considering the plight of our state, many pundits within and outside our borders try to imagine what a better California would look like and conclude simply: anything but what California looks like now.
Our diversity – multiple political constituencies, cultures, ethnic groups, regional differences, and varying economic foci – leads many to fatalistically conclude that California is simply ungovernable. But, these are surface differences that obscure a deeper, surprising truth.
Large majorities of Californians share broadly held values about what our state should be. But we have a political system based on supermajorities, which effectively means we are governed by the values of a minority of the state. This system is enormously destructive to collaboration on broad goals, that would be achievable under a more democratic system, based on these shared values.
Labor and business can work together to improve our state’s education, transportation infrastructure, and other areas of need. Both sides can reach agreement on business subsidies, as long as the promises made to obtain those subsidies, in terms of quality California jobs, are fulfilled. But, what is the point when the decision can be blocked by those who find the well-being of California’s working families an impediment to their own enrichment?
The majority of Californians are united in a belief that the way we treat the most vulnerable in society reveals our sense of decency as a larger community. Reforming health care so that it generates better outcomes for all is a widely shared goal, and the way to achieve it is through linking primary, acute, and preventive care with community health education. But, our system gives the fiscal last word on health care policy to those whose only goal is care for themselves and a dividend check.
California’s system rests on the hope that a minority, who have no use for government other than it protect their right to unreasonably profit from the rest of us, might from time to time show us some mercy. No dispassionate observer studying such a governing arrangement would give it any chance of success, and we Californians – as inventive and ingenious as we are – have failed to beat the odds.
No one argues that the rights of this minority should be trampled. Everyone’s rights to speak, meet, and organize, put up candidates, and challenge the status quo must be observed. But minority rights do not include nullifying majority policy.
A majority of Californians believe we shouldn’t leave people defenseless when economic forces they can’t control or defend against steal their security. A majority believe that business and labor need to work together, but that the health and safety of the workforce cannot be compromised as a result of this collaboration.
A public safety net is thus a widely shared value, and this safety net should be extended so that the shared values of the majority are not jeopardized by an extreme minority that shares nothing.
Cindy Chavez is the Executive Officer of the South Bay AFL-CIO Labor Council.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog by our guest elections columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of California Forward or our Leadership Council.