Californians don’t trust their state government. That’s nothing really new, but right now there’s as much cause for distrust as ever before in modern times.
There is, of course, the scandal that sees three indicted or convicted state senators under suspension after accusations of political corruption, gun-running and/or perjury, all refusing to resign. This leaves millions of Californians without Senate representation while the unconnected cases drag on and other senators refuse to expel their disgraced colleagues.
Then there’s the behavior of the Senate’s top officer, President Pro-Tem Darrell Steinberg, a Sacramento Democrat who has spoken out in favor of action to regain the public trust in his tainted house of the Legislature. But what he’s actually done so far is order his staff to delete the bulk of the official websites of the three troubled senators, wiping the Internet clean of their press releases, some records of their votes and the list of bills they’ve authored.
This makes it harder for the average citizen without hours to spend at it to track connections between bribes and votes, giving rise to speculation that Senate leaders are trying to protect their disgraced pals.
And there’s Steinberg’s designated successor, Los Angeles Democrat Kevin de Leon, due to assume the Senate’s top slot when Steinberg is termed out later this year. He is mentioned 47 times in the 124-page FBI affidavit (https://archive.org/stream/813027-sealed-fbi-affidavit-supporting-search-of/813027-sealed-fbi-affidavit-supporting-search-of_djvu.txt) in the case against suspended Sen. Ron Calderon of Montebello.
De Leon reportedly also brokered a sequence seeing Calderon pull out of a run for chairman of the Legislature’s Latino Caucus, while $25,000 went from a caucus-aligned committee to a consulting firm owned by Calderon’s brother, Tom, himself a former state senator.
In short, the Senate — specifically its big Democratic majority — wants the public’s trust but kills public information and doesn’t let questions about de Leon derail his progress toward its leadership. Not the usual way to earn trust.
So who can be surprised that a new Gallup Poll of 600 Californians shows only 49 percent with either a fair amount or a great deal of trust for their state government. That makes this one of just seven states where more people distrust their government than trust it.
Remarkably, even in New Jersey, home to the scandal-ridden Republican Gov. Chris Christie, a majority of the public trusts state government.
And it’s not just charges of corruption that spur voters not to trust California government. There’s also performance. The Gallup survey came within days of a report that the Los Angeles area has seen no net increase in the number of jobs over the past 25 years. Zero. That’s despite a population increase of more than 10 percent and the emergence of hundreds of high-tech startups in the coastal area now known as “Silicon Beach.” Not much achievement there by either state or local government.
There’s also the growing public disenchantment with the California high-speed rail project, where hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent so far without construction of an inch of track. When voters approved the project six years ago via Proposition 1A, it was clear the only way to achieve the promised travel time between Los Angeles and San Francisco of two hours, 40 minutes would be to follow the Interstate 5 corridor much of the way.
But that route never got serious consideration, with state planners insisting they would buy up prime farmland in Kern, Kings, Fresno and Madera counties while building pricey railroad stations in Bakersfield, Fresno and Merced, where not many passengers figure to board or detrain. It’s a classic bait-and-switch that has turned off even some of the original promoters of bullet trains in California.
And there’s the state Public Utilities Commission, consistently setting rates at levels designed to benefit big utility companies at the expense of their customers.
Step back and look at the full picture and you see a government that hasn’t grown jobs, hasn’t kept its word on the biggest proposed project in two generations, doesn’t look out for consumers and works to protect its own.
Does an outfit like this deserve much trust?
— Reach syndicated columnist Tom Elias at [email protected]