The Liberal Plot to Save California

Photo by Flickr user <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/29278394@N00/" target="_blank">normanack</a> under Creative Commons

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.


Even before last week’s progressipocalypse, there was a growing sentiment among those on the left that the American political process had some serious mud in its tires. And not just in Washington, either. Perhaps nowhere is democratic decay more pronounced than in MoJo‘s home base of California.

The state’s problems have been well documented (here’s a helpful introduction), but no single element has been more problematic than Prop 13, the 1978 constitutional amendment which stipulates that any tax-raising measure requires a virtually unattainable two-thirds majority in Sacramento. With revenues no longer keeping pace with the state’s needs, the cash-strapped government has been forced to slash essential services and issue I.O.Us to creditors. But help may finally be on the way: University of California-Berkeley professor George Lakoff, a linguist who was once dubbed “the father of framing” by the New York Times Magazine, is pushing to effectively repeal Prop 13 via a referendum this November.

“The linguistics is interesting,” Lakoff told me after a recent event in San Leandro. “When you say ‘supermajority’ it sounds like it’s more democratic, when it’s actually anti-democratic. It’s that little twist on language that’s there, and I think people had no idea about the reality of what was happening—that this is the only state in the union where there was total rule by a conservative minority.”

Lakoff’s strategy, in a nutshell, is to remind people how their government is supposed to work and whom it’s supposed to work for. You can think of it as the Schoolhouse Rock! strategy. He’s confident that voters affinity for small-d democratic principles will be the deciding factor in the debate. “No one has polled the issue of democracy,” Lakoff says. “No one has polled the issue of whether the majority of voters have a voice in their future. And that’s a major thing. This isn’t about whether taxes should or shouldn’t be raised.”

Whether the plan will work, though, remains to be seen. A similar proposition was defeated resoundingly six years ago, and, on the national level, Senate Republicans’ crusade against the filibuster in 2005, which also centered on the anti-democratic efforts of a minority, failed to win over the public. More damning is the likelihood that, despite what Lakoff says, the vote will come down to a referendum on taxes, which, in 2010, isn’t likely to be a winning issue for Democrats. Even in California. Still, if, as the saying goes, states are the laboratories of democracy, reformers in Washington would do well to track Lakoff’s progress in California.

And if all else fails in November, word has it that Texas Gov. Rick Perry is in the market for some Prop 13-style action of his own. Maybe the two states could work out some sort of trade.

Follow Tim Murphy on Twitter

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate