The Democrats in California have it way too easy. Keeping their majority in the legislature is simple — all they have to do is show up and read the newspaper. The GOP will have done something to communicate to the state’s voters that they’re out-of-step, out-of-bounds or out-of-their-minds.
Two stories in today’s Sacramento Bee illustrate the point. The first involves a bible study course sponsored by Assembly Minority Leader Mike Villines. Studying scripture isn’t the problem. If lawmakers want to study the bible or Shakespeare or Orson Scott Card, I don’t really care. The intolerance of the leader of those study sessions, however, is reminding independent minded voters, however, of how exclusionary the GOP can be sometimes.
Ralph Drollinger, who teaches these weekly bible classes, attacked lawmakers attending a rival bible fellowship class that embraced people of all faiths without insisting that they accept Jesus Christ as Messiah. Writing on his Capitol Ministries web site, he labeled this approach as “more than disgusting to our Lord and Savior.” His basic message is that you either accept in a manner that meets Mr. Drollinger’s criteria or your spiritual beliefs are meaningless. To believe in Jesus Christ as anything other than the messiah “is a deadly lie,” according to Mr. Drollinger.
People can believe what they want. If Mr. Drollinger believes his way is the only heavenly highway, well good for him. I think he’s wrong. So do the Catholics he once described as practicing a “false religion” according to the Bee. But then, my guess is we disagree on lots of things. The Bee also quotes him as saying that it is “sinful for a woman lawmaker to be away from her children four days a week while in Sacramento.”
What’s harmful to Republicans is not the specific rantings of this zealot. It’s that it belies their claim to being the party of the “Big Tent.” Mr. Drollinger’s views, presumably, reflect the perspective of those attending his GOP sponsored classes. Inviting a religious bigot into the capitol, one who vilifies and literally damns those who disagree with him as “sinful” and an “affront to God” could explain why the tent isn’t as big as the GOP claim, and why it’s doomed to get even smaller in the state over time.
The second article in today’s Sacramento Bee concerns efforts to tighten up a tax loophole that allows wealthy Californians to purchase yachts, RVs and other big ticket items, park them out-of-state for 90 days, and avoid paying Califonria state sales and use taxes on the purchase. Republicans refuse to close this tax dodge, some of them claiming they are protecting the job of the “immigrant who sprays fiberglass on a boat …” according to the Bee.
Compared to the state’s multi-billion dollar deficit, there’s not a lot of money at stake here: about $21 million. But every dollar counts. So Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Democrats in the legislature want to extend how long the purchased item needs to remain outside of California from 90-days to one year. Republicans are blocking the measure. The highly regarded and bi-partisan Legislative Analyst’s Office said the change would not detrimentally impact the state’s economy. Many of the Republicans, apparently blessed with information from a higher source, disagrees.
Apparently GOP lawmakers believe that the tax code they inherited upon taking office is sacrosanct, flawless and untouchable. Never mind logic. Never mind the facts. Never mind fairness. Republicans oppose tax increases. Period. That means the tax code cannot be changed, even if that means defending indefensible tax loopholes.
These two stories point out an absolutism among Republicans that make most Californians uncomfortable. Why should independents, Democrats and moderate Republicans support a party who considers them damned by God? Who would rather take medical care away from poor children than force the rich to pay a sales tax on the RVs and yachts they buy?
Republicans hold just 15 seats in the 40-member Senate. Two of those seats are vulnerable. If they go to challengers the Democrats would have the two-thirds vote they need in the upper house to pass anything they want.
In the Assembly, Republicans hold only 32 of the state’s 80 Assembly seats. That’s only five seats away from complete irrelevancy. The state would be better served by a more balanced legislature. One in which pragmatism is acknowledged as a virtue, not a sin. One where seeking solutions is more important than blindly adhering to the strict construction of campaign platitudes. Republicans who long for the days of Ronald Reagan should remember he was one of the most pragmatic governors in the state’s history. He was also one of the most tolerant.
But the California Republican party of Ronald Reagan is gone. The GOP now seems to be in the hands of politicians out-of-step with the majority of Californians. And the Democrats proclaim, “Hallelujah!”