For reasons lost in the mists of time (I probably sent him a neighbourly e-mail message at some point) I’m on the mailing list of California Assemblyman Jim Nielsen. Generally I don’t have time to give the electronic newsletters that arrive in my mailbox more than a cursory glance, but the heading on a recent message jumped out at me: Higher Education Cuts Hurt California’s Students.
‘Wow’, I thought, ‘a Republican Party officeholder willing to face up to the fact that public disinvestment from the state’s institutions of higher learning and research is hurting students! How promising!’
But then I read the message. I’ll quote you the relevant passages, so that you can have it from the horse’s mouth:
“Last week, the Legislature considered legislation authored by Speaker John Perez that would raise taxes on California’s job creators to provide financial aid to middle class college students ... Yet an analysis by California Budget Fact Check found that 2011-12 and 2012-13 budgets enacted by the majority party will: -cut higher education by more than $2 billion and surpass the $500 million in financial aid provided in the Speaker’s plan; -lead to $1.8 billion in tuition increases due to the higher education cut in the budget; -cut financial aid to families making less than $80,000 ...”
The good Assemblyman, so solicitous of the welfare of students across our state, goes on to itemise a further litany of cuts, some already made, others impending, to students in K-12 and at our colleges and universities. I’ll admit that after reading this, I was faced with a real dilemma: do I laugh or do I cry?
I’ve previously questioned Nielsen’s grasp on logic (it’s decidedly wanting), but here he embraced the full-throated lie that every oath-taking, pledge-signing fundamentalist Republican politician is telling up and down the state (and across the country). It takes real nerve, serious dishonesty, incredible stupidity, or a toxic mix of all three to run against the cuts you’ve forced on government. And that’s exactly what the serially dishonest Nielsen and his Republican colleagues are doing. California Democrats, whatever their faults, are not prone to de-funding K-12 or eviscerating higher education. Those cuts have been forced by a Republican Party which has embraced the doctrine of power without responsibility.
The state GOP is using the state’s enshrinement of minority rule (we have Prop 13 to blame for that) to block any attempt by the majority party to raise revenue. The effect? A state growing in population and in demographic complexity starved of revenue and governmental flexibility, its system of governance mangled, its politics completely broken, its public cynically manipulated by a party full of serving politicians and candidates who turn in their brains at the door and live out their legislative lives destroying the public institutions that shore up the livelihoods and economic opportunities of their constituents.
Nielsen is of the school that likes to pretend that you can find enough “savings” in K-12 and higher education to offset the billions of dollars of disinvestment from schools and from the nation’s preeminent system of higher education and research that his party has forced on California. In the case of UC, that’s laughable. As Operation Excellence is already proving, one person’s “waste” is the set of things that keep departments running smoothly and institutions operating efficiently. And in the case of K-12 education, his party is actually pushing an incredibly short-sighted and wasteful policy of re-inventing the wheel and creating parallel and unequal systems of education through charter schools (the road to vouchers by the back door—something Californians have rejected at the polls repeatedly and decisively).
It’s one thing to openly embrace the destruction of the public sphere through the disembowelment of the institutions which not only do social good by promoting economic and social mobility, but are also the engines of our state’s economy and our nation’s technical, moral, and scientific achievements. It’s quite another to pursue such an immoral agenda using undemocratic means, to pretend that you care about the welfare of those institutions, and then to pin the blame on someone else. That’s nauseatingly deceitful. But here as elsewhere, Assemblyman Nielsen is just toeing his party’s increasingly fanatical and hypocritical line by castigating the very ruin that the GOP is making of our state. The Republican Party sabotages government and then complains that it doesn’t work; the Republican Party de-funds our institutions and then complains that government is unresponsive; the Republican Party attacks education and then blames the Democrats.
All of that takes a certain kind of insolence if not audacity. But it also takes a total disregard for the welfare of Californians, and whatever extraordinary level of arrogance that allows a representative to think that he can pull the wool over the eyes of his constituents.