Saturday, November 9, 2013

Letting the States Be the "Laboratories of Reform"

Tom Hayden, born of the
anti-war movement of the 60s.
Daily Kos pointed me to this article by longtime California progressive Tom Hayden, lately of The Peace and Justice Resource Center. In it Hayden touts the advantages of progressives turning the tables on red states, which claim "states' rights" to be the special province of right-wing, culture-warrior prerogatives and shows how California under Governor Jerry Brown has often struck the right balance in moving the state towards a modern model of a government that serves the needs of its people. Hayden:

Governor Jerry Brown is finding California to be an effective Archimedean leverage point in shaping a progressive alternative to a federal system stalemated by the New Civil War.
The latest example is a West Coast pact to combat climate change by the governments of California, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia, a region populated by 53 million people with a GDP of $2.8 trillion.
The plan will produce energy savings, green jobs and greenhouse gas reductions, and will exploit any new Obama emissions standards that will eliminate new coal plants. California also will soon forge a carbon-reducing trading market with Quebec. The growing clean energy bloc will pressure for adoption of a new global energy agreement in 2015. 
California created similar leverage by adopting energy efficiency standards and renewable energy incentives in the Seventies, when America was paralyzed by Detroit's political monopoly over transportation policies favoring gas-guzzlers. At least fourteen states, led by California, formed an alternative energy bloc that resulted in greater fuel efficiency, consumer savings and domestic manufacturing jobs.
Governor Moonbeam no more?
I found it telling that Hayden has adopted language I introduced in my blog over a year ago -- not suggesting I thought of it first! -- mostly because I find the model helpful in understanding the behavioral aspect of the political fracturing of America brought on by the election of Barack Obama. And it's telling that Jerry Brown has, on a large scale -- California's is the ninth largest economy in the world -- helped shape a nation-sized set of reforms that hints at what an American-style progressive state can provide its people. In turn, California can set standards for other states to follow, not something new as demonstrated over the years by the leadership the state has provided on energy and conservation issues, marijuana decriminalization, and marriage equality.

California's road to reform has been choppy at times and not always progressive, as Hayden points out:
The truth is more that California politics today have evolved through the very snares that are causing national politics to be so broken. Today's right-wing insurgency symbolized by the Tea Party began its virulence with the Prop 13 voter revolt against property taxes in 1979.  Today's anti-immigrant phobia arose with Pete Wilson's TV commercials of immigrants racing across the border, and with Orange County politicians sending sheriffs to inspect polling places for voter fraud by Latinos. California gave America the Three Strikes crusade. Californians threw out three competent and qualified state Supreme Court judges on the grounds that they were soft on crime. California's LAPD created the national model for SWAT teams and riot control.
As a Californian, I now feel comfortable in the liberal bastion of the San Francisco Bay Area. Yet California as a whole has been far from a progressive's dream over the decades, as the agricultural and rural regions harbor deep-seeded conservative and libertarian impulses perhaps dating from the Oklahoman migrations of the 30s. Remember, California elected Arnold Schwarzenegger twice in the last decade (he left office in 2010!).

Hayden points out that Jerry Brown has learned to balance these divergent interests in ways a younger Jerry Brown had failed to do:
Brown's initiatives are far from perfect, of course. His climate change policies have failed to address fracking beyond moderate regulatory adjustments. His law-and-order approach helped fuel mass incarceration, and he refused to lift a finger, at least publicly, when hundreds of inmates went on hunger strike against brutal conditions of solitary confinement. Those failures only show that social movements have more pressure work ahead, since Brown is careful about positioning himself too far in front of public opinion. The opposition to fracking will only grow when more Californians in the Monterrey Shale region are impacted, as happened with homeowners all across suburban New York. And Brown may turn to prison reform once his court appeals are turned down for a final time, which is likely to be soon. Then he can blame those judicial mandates for any reforms he adopts while running for re-election next year. Politics is an ugly world, but that's what they have confessionals for.
Yes indeed. Still, I'll gladly vote again for Brown should he -- as people expect him to do -- run again in 2014. I might not like everything we get from a "careful" Jerry Brown, but he has built a government that functions, often in a progressive way. I'll take that any day.

Rick Perry's Texas: What kind of "laboratory" are they forging down there?

Read Hayden's whole piece. It offers a view of what progressivism can do state-by-state, even in today's uneven, uncivil political climate.

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