Flip! Flop! Flip! Flop!
Can you hear that? It’s the sound of Abel Maldonado’s campaign to lead the Republican Party to an improbable victory against Democratic Governor Jerry Brown in November of 2014. What accounts, you might ask, for the strange noise being made by the man who appears to have a death-wish in challenging our Incredible Prevaricating Governor, who is about to become the longest serving chief executive of California in history?
Well, it could be the distinct limp with which Maldonado’s campaign is moving. He recently lost all of his top operatives, who he claimed were sucking money out of his campaign without injecting anything into his limp poll numbers. They claimed that they were leaving a sinking ship. Ever fair-minded, I see no reason why both can't be true. This was of course, after he came out swinging in what amounted to a campaign launch by attacking Brown’s plans for prison realignment. Maldonado’s problem was that he couldn’t find any good evidence of how the early-release program would put Californians in danger. Faced with such a dilemma, lesser politicians might have chosen another issue to launch their campaign. But Maldonado instead used the case of a re-offender whose release years ago had nothing at all to do with Brown’s program.
The lie that launched a doomed campaign is perhaps illustrative of Maldonado’s approach to politics. He’s of the “say anything, do anything” school. But unlike Brown, who has a PhD from that particular institution, Maldonado seems to be stumbling around waving his AA degree.
Maldonado served in the California Senate, and was appointed Lieutenant Governor. During those years in office, he took perks from the energy lobby and was sued by the IRS for tax dodging and claiming improper reductions. In other words, just another corrupt state Senator. But he was catapulted to infamy when he provided the deciding vote in the Senate to raise taxes modestly in 2009. For this he was pilloried by the fundamentalist, pledge-signing, oath-taking wackjobs in the state GOP. But it earned him the gratitude of his patron, Governor Schwarzenegger, who appointed Maldonado Lieutenant Governor (he lost his race for reelection against Gavin Newsom by a pretty brutal margin in 2010).
The vote was clearly designed to re-cast Maldonado as a moderate against the backdrop of a party comprised of raging lunatics, and it worked, except that he couldn’t hang onto any office that would maintain his profile or serve as the stepping-stone to higher office. He lost the Lieutenant Governor race (Gavin Newsom probably wishes Maldonado had won), as well as a race for state legislature.
But now that he needs the blessing of the high priests of economic fundamentalism in the GOP, he’s flip-flopping all over the state convention floor this week-end (pity whomever's got to clean up after that s**t-show). The Los Angeles Times reports that Maldonado “voiced regret for his pivotal 2009 vote as a state senator to raise taxes”. Flip! There go the moderate credentials! It’s incredible that some people still believe that opposition to taxation as a first principle is a viable position in government, and it shows how little the GOP has changed in the past few years if it is still holding its candidates to this level of absurdity.
But Maldonado is also supporting abortion rights, same sex marriage, and immigration reform. Flop! There—the GOP hopes—come some social liberals into their column come election time.
Maldonado’s flip-flopping demonstrates both how opportunistic the GOP’s cultural commitments are and how dangerously radical on economics the party remains. Maldonado is seeking to mimic Californians’ views on social issues which are essentially settled. He is speaking out for gay rights after the courts have settled the issue. He is supporting abortion rights which are a non-issue in state politics.
His embrace of immigration reform is particularly telling. If Maldonado thinks that Latinos in California will embrace him because of his name and an embrace of immigration reform, I think he’ll be surprised. People come to the United States because they see the opportunity to live a decent life. They want to live as labourers in a country where their work is valued and where they will be paid fairly for that work. They want to know that if they struggle they and their families will not be forsaken by society. They want to know that there are institutions—schools and universities—that have the capacity to enable their children to better their own lives.
But Maldonado and the California Republican Party—emulating the sociopaths in its national counterpart—are working to erode this society in the United States. Their model is Texas, an economy in which Latinos and other poor Texans serve as a reservoir of cheap, underpaid labour which works in unregulated conditions in a literally toxic environment for irresponsible plutocrats at the head of Big Business.
The state GOP’s invitation to Texas Governor Rick Perry, a top speaker at their convention, tells you all you need to know. Perry regularly visits California, trying to poach jobs and businesses from the state. California’s Republican Party, far from being disturbed by this exploitation of the people they purport to represent, issued the poacher an invitation to come to their convention and add to his efforts to hurt California’s public and economy. Ideology, and commitment to a corporate plutocracy across the country is clearly more important to Republican Party officials than the welfare of their constituents.
Perry spouted some dated lies, calling California bankrupt, which is not the case since his party lost its undemocratic hold on the legislatures (conferred by Prop 13’s supermajority rules rather than the endorsement of the electorate) in 2012. Perry referred to Texas’ job creation, ignoring the fact that a quickly-growing number of workers in his state are uninsured, and that his administration has given massive assists to polluters while wrecking the state’s school system and creating a class of workers who teeter constantly on the brink of disaster.
So when Maldonado and other Republicans are running for office next year and promising that they have mended their ways and have the interests of California at heart, think about Maldonado’s flip flopping. He’s flipped to that mythical place called the “centre” on settled issues, after the fights for civil and political rights have been won. But he’s flopping to the right on issues that show that his party retains its commitment to inequality, corporate welfare, and economic fundamentalism at the expense of working people, education, and a more equitable distribution of wealth, resources, and access to services.
Remember the bad old days which only just ended, when from their minority position the Republicans sabotaged the working of state government just as Tea Party members are doing in Washington, D.C. today. Remember the cynicism with which the California Republican Party rejected investment in schools and universities, in research and innovation, and in the social fabric of our society and communities—in the form of parks, libraries, and community centres, to say nothing of the literal backbone of our state infrastructure in the form of road improvement and public transit expansion (and I’m not just talking high speed rail).
We have a long way to go in California before we begin to resemble a rational polity, capable of being governed in a democratic fashion rather than through a convoluted and inflexible constitution packed with mandates, caps, supermajority rules, and the political and economic wish lists of generations long dead. But repudiating the immoral and untenable outlook of the fundamentalist Republican Party once and for all is one step on the road to a better society.