A Rising Anti-Government Tide
Americans should look carefully at the anti-politician, anti-government mood exhibited in California this week. Just as Proposition 13 and the anti-tax movement of 1978 were the forerunners of the Reagan presidential victory, so the results of Tuesday's vote are a harbinger of things to come.
The repudiation of the California establishment in the series of initiative defeats could hardly have been more decisive. Five taxing and spending measures were rejected by 62.6 to 66.4 percent of the voters. That is a consistent majority of enormous potential. An even larger majority, 73.9 percent, approved the proposition limiting elected officials' salaries when there is a deficit.
This vote is the second great signal that the American people are getting fed up with corrupt politicians, arrogant bureaucrats, greedy interests and incompetent, destructive government.
The elites ridiculed or ignored the first harbinger of rebellion, the recent tea parties. While it will be harder to ignore this massive anti-tax, anti-spending vote, they will attempt to do just that.
Voters in our largest state spoke unambiguously, but politicians and lobbyists in Sacramento are ignoring or rejecting the voters' will, just as they are in Albany and Trenton. The states with huge government machines have basically moved beyond the control of the people. They have become castles of corruption, favoritism and wastefulness. These state governments are run by lobbyists for the various unions through bureaucracies seeking to impose the values of a militant left. Elections have become so rigged by big money and clever incumbents that the process of self-government is threatened.
Sacramento politicians will now reject the voters' call for lower taxes and less spending and embrace the union-lobbyist-bureaucrat machine that is running California into the ground, crippling its economy and cheating residents. This model of high-tax, big-spending inefficiency has already driven thousands of successful Californians out of the state (taking with them an estimated $11 billion in annual tax revenue). The exodus will continue.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is a smart, tough, charismatic leader who has been forced to submit to policies he knows are ruining California on behalf of interests he knows are cheating the state. His failure to tame the union-lobbyist-bureaucrat machine that owns the legislature is a symptom of just how powerful it is.
Albany is even more corrupt and dysfunctional. The special interests that own the legislators in both parties have been exploiting New York for two generations. They have impoverished the Upstate region to the point where it is a vast zone of no jobs and no opportunities. Their predatory tax and bureaucratic union behavior is beginning to cripple New York City. More and more successful New Yorkers are leaving the state. In the face of multiple crises, Gov. David Paterson has shown himself incapable of carrying out reform.
In other words, the political machines in California and New York are wrecking the states' economies and driving out successful residents. But the machines don't care because all they want to do is own the wreckage.
This system of ruining communities on behalf of interest groups first appeared in Detroit. Bad government, bad politicians and bad policies drove a city that had, in 1950, the highest per capita income of any large American city to No. 62 in per capita income as of 2007. The population has declined from 1.8 million to fewer than 950,000. Recently, 1,800 homes were sold for under $10,000 each. The human cost of bad politics and bad government in Detroit is staggering.
Now President Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid want to impose on the nation this style of politics in which interest groups, politicians and bureaucracies dominate. Look at their record: a $787 billion stimulus no elected official had read, 8,000 earmarks, an Environmental Protection Agency plan to control the economy through carbon regulations, the government threatening retaliation against those who would protect their property rights against theft in the Chrysler bailout -- again and again, this team is moving toward a government that owns the country rather than a government that is owned by the people.
Watch Sacramento politicians and interest groups work to overrule the people of California. Watch Albany politicians and interest groups continue to undermine the economy of New York. Watch the arrogance of the elites in Washington as they impose their costs and special deals on the American people.
Then look again at the 62 percent-plus majority in California in favor of smaller government and lower taxes.
In the great tradition of political movements rising against arrogant, corrupt elites, there will soon be a party of people rooting out the party of government. This party may be Republican; it may be Democratic; in some states it may be a third party. The politicians have been warned.
The writer, a Republican, was speaker of the House of Representatives from 1995 to 1999. He is chairman of the Gingrich Group, a communications and consulting firm, and general chairman of American Solutions for Winning the Future.