- Patricia Sulbarán Lovera
- BBC News Mundo correspondent in Los Angeles
California is synonymous with superlatives: it is the richest state in the United States, the most populous, the place with the most billionaires in the country and the producer of two-thirds of the fruits consumed in the nation.
With its seasonal exceptions, Californian economy In general, it has prospered in recent decades and if in 1991 it ranked ninth among world economies, in 2018 it rose to fifth (and remains, according to local experts).
The state’s political influence is also clear, with several state officials moving to Washington to work alongside the Democratic president. Joe Biden.
And for years it has been accepted that the Democratic Party will win the positions of power in a state where the population votes overwhelmingly for this option and thereby expresses its progressive ideals.
The state’s efforts to create green economies and protect immigrant communities are frequently highlighted.
However, there are those who believe that California is far from being an exemplary model of society or of governance.
And your Democratic governor, Gavin Newsom, is about to be called for a recall referendum.
“If California is a vision of the kind of future that the Biden administration wants for Americans, it is expected that Americans will object,” wrote the opinion columnist of the Biden. New York Times Bret L. Stephens in February.
“Like Republicans, Democrats do best when they rule from the center. Forget California, think Colorado,” he suggested.
An uneven state
The wealth gap of Californians is the state’s number one vulnerability, according to Mark Baldassare, president of the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), an independent organization.
“The distance between the rich and the poor impacts housing costs, the cost of living, the homeless crisis, and ultimately makes some wonder if they have a future here“, dice.
Although California is in the center of the innovation in science, technology and business, it also has the highest poverty rate of the United States, when considering the cost of living and housing.
More than one in six Californians is poor, according to a March report this year commissioned by the governor, Gavin Newsom, to a committee made up of different organizations and government entities.
In contrast, in 2019 they resided more billionaires in California than in any other area of the country, according to Forbes.
“The Californian economy is extraordinarily successful, but it hasn’t benefited many people,” says Anmol Chaddha, lead researcher on the report commissioned by Newsom.
According to the same report, the main problem is the quality of jobs.
“About a third of workers earn less than US $ 15 an hour“, Explain.
The outlook is getting worse for Latinos; 44% earn less than $ 15 an hour.
A salary that does not compensate for high housing costs. In a city like San Francisco, the average monthly rent for an apartment is almost US$3.000.
According to Chaddha, only 40% of Californians have “good jobs,” which he defines as jobs that, in addition to what they pay, offer benefits, consistent pay and a fixed schedule.
Chaddha gives the example of tech companies like Amazon and Uber, whose executives earn very high salaries, “in contrast to the realities of those who drive cars or work in warehouses” in lower-income areas of the state.
500.000people have left the state in the last two years.
39%of the state’s population is of Hispanic origin.
17,2%is the state’s poverty rate, the highest in the country when considering the cost of living.
Sources: Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC); Institute for the Future (California).
There is also a disagreement between the places where there are jobs and the availability of affordable housing in those places, the experts note.
Opposition to the governor
California has been governed by a majority of legislators and Democratic Party officials steadily since 2011.
In general, Democrats are characterized by promoting policies that address inequalities based on government support.
Experts cite as recent examples the economic rescue package in the wake of the pandemic in US$7.600 millones implemented by Newsom, and funds of millions of dollars for the benefit of undocumented immigrants, as well as a program to support the payment of rent.
In large part this is possible because of the tax burden imposed on Californians with higher income, highlights Baldassare.
“We are not having a budget crisis. Fiscal gains have allowed the state to have a surplus to serve people who need it,” he explains.
But these initiatives have not contained a campaign to remove Newsom of power, which already has 80% of the 1.5 million validated signatures that are required to carry out a recall referendum at the end of the year.
The effort was initially driven by conservative activists and supporters of former President Trump, but now receives support from the Republican Party and includes disgruntled citizens. “of the entire political spectrum”as Orrin Heatlie, who filed the petition, stated.
Although California as a whole is seen as a Democratic stronghold, in the 2020 election Trump got the majority of the votes in rural areas of the center of the country, far from urban centers such as Los Angeles or San Francisco.
Newsom’s handling of the covid-19 crisis, with the closure of businesses and schools for months, as well as a scandal of fraudulent payments of billions of dollars of the unemployment office are among the main reasons of those who ask for his exit.
Calls for governor recall referendums are common in California, but only once has a governor emerged from power through this mechanism.
If it is approved, in the election the voters are asked if they want to remove the current governor and then they vote for any of the candidates to replace him, which until now, they are all republicans.
Newsom has described this initiative as a “challenge” to his progressive policies, while the Republican Party points to the poverty rate, homelessness and gas prices as the real reasons.
“Lack of accountability”
Some analysts see this political crux as a manifestation of discontent towards the Democratic hegemony.
Lanhee J. Chen pointed out in a recent column in Los Angeles Times the “lack of accountability it comes from a one-party regime in a state where Republicans have not won a state election since 2006 and are a small minority in both houses of the legislature. ”
Although it seems unlikely that Newsom will indeed come out of power, experts agree that there are big problems that Democrats have not been able to solve.
“Incentives in politics lead to doing things in the short term and here you need plan for the future, to prevent our cities from flooding or burning, or to solve the housing crisis or the pension problem, or to reform the tax system, “says Bruce Cain, professor of political science at Stanford University.
Some companies, and about half a million people they have left California in the past two years to settle in states with fewer tax burdens and lower costs of living, such as Texas.
Cain acknowledges that there are complaints about the amount of regulations and high taxes in the state, “but you cannot do ambitious things, at a technological level, of green infrastructure” without imposing these measures.
It is not for nothing that they say that governing California is like governing an entire country.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.