Loses its luster.
What explains the legislature’s transformation into the dysfunctional body it is today? Some argue that California’s population is now so vast that it is almost impossible for state legislators to gain adequate knowledge about the people and landscapes they ostensibly serve.
Term limits—amended in 2012 to allow 12 consecutive years of service in either the assembly or senate—may also partially be to blame. Sacramento has few experienced legislators. Most lawmakers spend their brief time in office planning for their post officia careers, either by courting lobbyists, making deals with the governor to secure lucrative sinecures as administrative grandees on well-paid state commissions and boards, or eyeing another elective office. Corruption is a problem, too. Currently, Democratic state senator Roderick Wright is on paid leave—rather than being expelled—from the legislature after being convicted by a Los Angeles jury of eight felonies related to campaign fraud. Democratic state senator Rod Calderon also went on paid leave to face more than 20 felony counts of bribery, money laundering, and fraud. The most recent example is also the most shocking: Democratic state senator and gun-control advocate Leland Yee was indicted in March for conspiring to commit wire fraud and traffic weapons.
But a more far-reaching explanation for the legislature’s behavior is that the state became both fabulously wealthy—California is home to more billionaires than any other state—and very poor. Those in between are either marginalized politically or, as we’ve seen, moving out. California today is largely a cartographical abstraction. Two profoundly different cultures and landscapes have evolved over the last half-century and now seem arbitrarily lumped together.
An overclass—much of it living in the state’s most heavily populated corridor, within 50 miles of the coast from Berkeley to San Diego—is doing quite well economically, despite the state legislature’s incompetence and job-shrinking policies.Many of California’s most affluent residents, at least so far, tend to shrug off high taxes, viewing income redistribution through taxation as a sort of psychological penance for their super-wealth. Residents of La Jolla, Santa Monica, and Palo Alto can afford the private schools that are sprouting up in the manner of Southern academies following the court-ordered forced busing of the 1970s. They seek class homogeneity in their gated enclaves, and they don’t worry about the high power bills of the poor residing in the frequently sweltering interior—much less the effect of illegal immigration on medical and social services in that region. They care far more about the environment and gay marriage and other progressive causes than about mundane concerns such as fuel and farm exports and middle-class jobs. They form a cash-laden constituency with enormous pull in the state legislature.