For the last three years, California has managed through poor governance to simultaneously achieve the highest deficits in the nation; the highest combination of income, sales and gas taxes; the best-paid teachers; and among the lowest school test scores in the country. After failing, along with the legislature, to balance budgets, improve the schools, lower taxes, trim state expenditures, and deal with millions of resident Mexican nationals without diplomas, English-language skills or legal status, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger reinvented himself as a globally celebrated green-action hero of the solar, wind and alternative-energy lobbies.
His outgoing legacy is a $25 billion budget deficit waiting for newly inaugurated Gov. Jerry Brown and all sorts of fresh environmental regulations imposed in recessionary times on a struggling private sector that is often unprofitable or on the verge of leaving the state. So Schwarzenegger left office with a 22 percent approval rating and a high-profile schedule of engagements speaking to green groups as a heroic green celebrity.
It is a human trait to focus on cheap lofty rhetoric rather than costly earthy reality. It is a bureaucratic characteristic to rail against the trifling misdemeanor rather than address the often-dangerous felony. And it is political habit to mask one's own failures by lecturing others on their supposed shortcomings. Ambitious elected officials often manage to do all three.
The result in these hard times is that our elected sheriffs, mayors and governors are loudly weighing in on national and global challenges that are quite often out of their own jurisdiction, while ignoring or failing to solve the very problems that they were elected to address.
Quite simply, the next time your elected local or state official holds a press conference about global warming, the Middle East or the national political climate, expect to experience poor county law enforcement, bad municipal services or regional insolvency.