The independent news organization of Duke University

California’s kooks, nuts and freaks

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

She has lived in Los Angeles my entire childhood. She works for a real estate firm just a block away from Rodeo Drive. Like many Californians, she gets her raw almonds and self-satisfaction at Whole Foods. If she’s feeling indulgent, she’ll take her Audi sedan through the In-N-Out drive through. She lives like a Californian, she walks like a Californian, but she certainly doesn’t talk like a Californian. For good reason too, because Sarah Blanchard isn’t a Californian—she’s a Texan. And maybe it's that Texas spunk, but my Aunt Sarah actively defies many aspects of California culture and, especially, its politics. When together, Sarah and I love to discuss California’s “kooks, nuts and freaks.”  

Although there are plenty of Californians who could be called kooks, nuts or freaks, Sarah and I are focused on California’s politicians. These are kooks like Rep. Maxine Waters, who recently publicly called for aggressive harassment of her political opposition and has bragged that she threatens Trump supporters “all the time.” Waters is joined by nuts like Governor Jerry “Moonbeam” Brown, who talks a big game about California “showing the way” for the nation in the age of Trump. If only California could show the way out of the nation’s highest poverty rate, but that would involve answering tough questions about Brown’s preferred economic policies. The freaks are exemplified by former San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom. While mayor, Newsom had an affair with a subordinate, female coworker in what was a predatory use of power. Thankfully, Democratic primary voters have high standards and thus elected Newsom to be their candidate for Governor this fall. Are you offended by the hypocrisy and conveniently selective outrage? Me too. 

I don’t like California’s leading officials, but I respect that they have produced incredible results. Currently, the reign of California’s kooks, nuts and freaks is peaking. Until last June, the Democratic party held super majorities in both houses of the state legislature. In the governor’s race, Newsom has comfortably polled far ahead of Republican candidate John Cox in the polls for the entire race. On a national level, the state is reliably blue in Presidential elections, has two Democratic Senators, and a largely blue House delegation as well. At every level, the Democratic party controls the levers of political power. Despite this, there is some hope for conservatives on the left coast. 

California Democrats don’t picture Paul Ryan when considering their biggest political threats, but maybe they should. In the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) passed by Congress last December, the Speaker made significant changes to the tax code that will affect California. Prior to the TCJA, Americans had been able to use a policy called the “state and local income tax deduction” (SALT) to subtract the entirety of what they pay in state income taxes from their federal income tax burden. Which seems swell until one realizes that because rich people pay top state tax rates, the SALT deduction is effectively a handout to rich people in high tax, often Democratic states: states like California. Democrats love the SALT deduction because it shields wealthy Californians from bearing the full cost of the state’s incredibly high taxes and thus allows them to raise taxes far higher than would be politically feasible otherwise. Thanks to Ryan, the taxation bonanza is ending. In the TCJA, the SALT deduction was capped so that taxpayers could, at most, deduct $10,000 from their federal tax bill. Consequently, the taxes of many wealthy Californians will rise. When that happens, said people will question whether they should continue to donate to and vote for the Democratic party. In an ideal world, California Democrats would acknowledge this impending tax revolt, see the error of their ways, and embrace tax cuts. Because that won’t happen, Republicans will have an opportunity. Cutting taxes is such a natural, winning issue for Republicans that columnist Robert Novak once declared that “God put the Republican Party on earth to cut taxes. If they don’t do that, they have no useful function.” The California Republican party has a useful function now! 

The next shakeup of California comes from the Supreme Court. Last session, the court decided the case of Janus v. AFSCME (the largest public employees union in the US) in favor of the plaintiff, Mark Janus. The court ruled that, because union collective bargaining is inherently political, public sector unions could no longer coerce dues from non-unionized employees without violating said employees’ First Amendment rights. Quickly recognizing the decision’s ruinous consequences for public unions, Justice Kagan argued this “decision will have large-scale consequences” and that “[p]ublic employee unions will lose a secure source of financial support.” The implications of this decision for California cannot be overstated. For decades, public unions and the California Democratic party have had a cozy, mutually beneficial arrangement. According to the California Policy Center (CPC), California public sector unions donate “$255 million per year, over $20 million per month” in campaign contributions-- a staggering amount. Even more ridiculous, the CPC cautioned that “the calculations that come out of this exercise are probably conservative…” Saying that public sector unions are among the most politically influential actors in the state would be an understatement. Naturally, Democratic politicians rewarded the unions for their largesse with significant pay and benefit increases to the point where public sector employees make double, on average, what private sector employees do. Fortunately, the gravy train is coming to a halt. Post-Janus, California Democrats can still rely on considerable financial backing from the public unions. The problem for Democrats is that, financially speaking, that support will mean drastically less. 

Experts say that California is overdue for another earthquake. I won’t speak to the intentions of the San Andreas fault, but California’s political scene is due for a seismic upheaval. The reign of the kooks, nuts and freaks is peaking and the stage is set for decline. I both hope and predict that the contradictions and consequences of California liberalism come to bear in the minds of future voters. We are simultaneously the fifth-largest economy in the world, we consistently elect politicians who purport to care about the poor above all else and yet we have the nation’s highest poverty rate. Our elected politicians have the audacity to blast the TCJA as a “tax [break] for the wealthy” in nearly the same breath as they defend the SALT deduction, a tax break that overwhelmingly benefits the wealthy. The cost of living in many California cities is so high that middle class San Franciscans are actively choosing not to have children for fear that they will not be able to financially support them. My hometown, Los Angeles, has a skyrocketing homeless population of people who cannot afford to live lives of dignity because of policies that make housing prohibitively expensive. In the interior of the state, residents are wracked by a substance abuse epidemic so severe that you would be hard pressed to distinguish Eureka, California from West Virginia. Despite it all, Governor Brown claims his state is a model to follow. I would tell Governor Brown to go to hell, but I’m afraid he would take California with him. 

Reiss Becker is a Trinity sophomore. His column runs on alternate Tuesdays.


Share and discuss “California’s kooks, nuts and freaks” on social media.