Whalen on the State of California Politics

In a few weeks Stanford students registered to vote in California will have the opportunity to involve themselves in the political process. Bill Whalen of the Hoover Institution shared his insights on the coming election and what it could mean for students with The Stanford Review.

The Economy

Whalen believes that the status of the economy is of great importance to students.  He stated, “You need an economy that is producing jobs and hiring people. The California economy is not doing that right now, so as students you need to listen to these two [gubernatorial] candidates and see what it is they are talking about to jump start this economy and how it affects you.”

California’s economy is stagnant right now, with above 20% unemployment in eight counties. On that topic, Whalen commented, “The number one issue for students should be the economy because the fact of the matter is that anywhere from one to four years from now you’re going to want to work.”

Therefore, Whalen believes that proposals with an economic impact should receive the most attention from students.

One of those proposals is Proposition 23, which would implement a moratorium on the provisions of AB 32, the climate change control legislation passed under the auspices of Governor Schwarzenegger. Proposition 23 would cancel AB 32 until California unemployment reaches 5.5% or lower and stays there for four consecutive business quarters.

Proponents argue that the AB 32 climate change legislation would negatively impact business and job creation in California because of the emissions regulations it puts on businesses. But according to Whalen, any gains from Proposition 23 delaying AB 32 could come at the risk of sacrificing something even greater.

“The bigger problem is that [Prop 23] would potentially compromise the green technology industry interest in California, which would tie into job expansion of green tech but also California’s competitive standing with the rest of the world,” he said, reminding that “California gets about 60% of the nations venture capital money which goes into green tech. Prop 23 could potentially compromise that.”

Whalen recognizes how dire California’s economic situation might be. “We have systemic problems that go beyond other states,” he stated. To him, policies exacerbating the problem are the “regulatory hoops and hurdles” that make California less “business friendly.”

Prop 19

Beyond just economic issues, Stanford students also concern themselves with social issues like climate change and the legalization of marijuana. Whalen believes that these issues are more symbolic than anything else and represent a generational divide between Californians.

He criticizes Proposition 19, the proposition that would legalize marijuana, because he is skeptical that the state will actually see promised increases in revenue. According to the fine print on the measure, citizens are allowed to carry up to an ounce of marijuana and can grow their own in an area not exceeding 25 square feet.

Whalen questioned how enforceable these regulations would be. He asked, “What’s stopping me, if I have a very big backyard, from growing a vast supply of marijuana? Now, I am breaking the law, I am defying the 25 square foot limit and I am rolling the dice as much as we did during Prohibition that the Feds aren’t going to catch me. I’ll make a fortune…because I’m doing it in an underground way.”

With schemes like this, Whalen predicts that profiteers will deprive the state of any new revenue it would receive under Prop 19. “This is going to take away revenue the state anticipates,” he said, “so I wonder practically if this idea would match up to the reality of all this money going to Sacramento.”

The marijuana debate could also lead to other changes in criminal law. Currently, criminal activities could be legalized in order to obtain more state revenue. “If you’re going to [legalize] marijuana, why not legalize prostitution or expand gaming from beyond Indian casinos?”

National Political Climate

Student voters in 2008 generally fell in line with the national mood set by Obama, but this national political mood could be changing drastically for the 2010 election.  “Every Democrat will welcome Barack Obama’s money, but being out there on the stump with him is difficult,” Whalen noted.

However, he reminded readers that “Barack Obama is probably ten points more popular in California than he is in other parts of the country.”

“We [Calfornia] run kind of funny in these ‘surge’ elections,” Whalen said. Looking at history, he indicated that California might buck the national trend this election cycle, saying, “If you look back at 1994, the last big Republican surge election, the Contract with America, Diane Feinstein was re-elected to the Senate. If you go back to 1980 and the first Reagan landslide, Alan Cranston was re-elected to the Senate [from California].”

In summarizing what the current election season is about, Whalen laid out a unique position: “I don’t think it’s so much the stimulus debate, the spending debate, the Afghanistan debate; I think it is a larger spiritual debate that is going on.”

He continued, “People here [in California] are just world-weary of politicians. Four out of five people think the state is on the wrong track, and one out of seven people think that the legislature is doing a good job….People are sour on politics and politicians in this state.”

Whether Stanford students will tune into the larger spiritual debate is yet to be seen, but according to Whalen, they certainly have many reasons to do so.

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