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The Harder They Fall

A Commentary By Debra J. Saunders

Thursday, February 12, 2009

I ran into a friend in Sacramento Tuesday -- one of the many disappointed Republicans who inhabit the capital -- who told me that he will never again vote for a candidate for governor who has not lost an election. He had soured on the lack of humility invasive in state politics.

When I worked in the Capitol in 1987, the rap against Sacramento was that there were too many backroom and bar-napkin deals. The rap today is that there are no deals at all. Or -- as appears to be the case -- there are deals hammered out so late in the game that they inflict more pain than is necessary.

Why? Because too many politicians think they're too good to cut a good deal.

In past columns on Sacramento's sorry finances, I've hit the Dems, who as the majority party have spent California into oblivion, and the Republicans, who would not agree to tax increases when they would have been less painful than now. And I've hit the governator for not reducing spending early in his tenure, as promised.

As Sacramento is poised to act, let us not forget California voters, who demand that their politicians tell them only what they want to hear, and threaten to behead any elected official who deviates from that script.

Thank you, California voters. You send the most liberal Democrats and most conservative Republicans to Sacramento, and then you are indignant when the extremists cannot work together.

You recalled Gov. Gray Davis and replaced him with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger because Davis raised the vehicle license fee. When Schwarzenegger proposed spending cuts, you abandoned him.

When Schwarzenegger put a spending limit measure on the 2005 ballot, you rejected it -- not because of the content of the measure, but because you were miffed he had called a special election.

You sure showed him, didn't you?

When state lawmakers on each side of the aisle began to work on a budget, you sat back as activists from both parties pulled out their pitchforks. Labor leaders have threatened to wage recall efforts against Democrats who vote to ease workplace rules or reduce state spending. Conservatives say they will bury any Republican who votes to raise taxes. At home, voters are wondering whom to blame for not getting their way.

After Assemblyman Anthony Adams, R-Hesperia, said he would vote for a tax increase if Democrats agreed to limit spending in the future, former state GOP Sen. Ray Haynes took off on Adams for putting the "short-term pursuit of power over the long-term pursuit of principle" on the popular conservative website www.flashreport.org.

The problem is: Republicans' idea of principle has been to pass spending plans that burned extra tax dollars without levying higher taxes to pay for these programs. As Republican Tom Campbell, the former state finance director who may run for governor in 2010, noted, "There is nothing principled in passing a dishonest budget."

And: "To say that because you're willing to compromise, you lack principle, well, that's an argument for a monarchy."

As of my deadline, details of the Sacramento budget are sketchy, but Sen. GOP leader Dave Cogdill told the Sacramento Bee he was releasing Republicans to support the measure because, "I've negotiated it to the point where I think it doesn't get any better."

Even without the details, I can safely predict the plan will include painful spending cuts and painful tax increases. Yes, it will be humbling.

It could have been easier if Sacramento solons had been better at cutting deals earlier. Alas, like their constituents, Sacramento lawmakers have had a too-royal view of their principles. Like children, they've dedicated their careers to doing whatever they pleased -- righteous in their conviction that whatever came easy was right.

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