Asked about a harebrained scheme by a Californian capitalist with too much time on his hands to split California six different ways, North State Congressman Doug LaMalfa, according to The Hill, replied that “his constituents, primarily farmers and ranchers, have different needs than the ‘urban reactionaries’ in San Francisco and Los Angeles’”. While I think he probably meant “radicals” rather than “reactionaries”, given his own prehistoric politics, let’s examine LaMalfa’s contention.
It is certainly true that people in different parts of the state have different priorities. Reform advocates in the state have suggested that introducing a greater degree of democracy into our politics could give all Californians a finer, more accurate grain of representation.
But that’s quite different from saying that Californians in different parts of the state have different needs and desires. As far as I know, Californians from Redding and its outlying communities, San Francisco, and Los Angeles all get sick, grow old, and occasionally fall on hard times. They all want their children to have good schools, safe communities, and access to opportunities. They all want to eat safe food, drink clean water, and breathe unpolluted air. They all have an interest in driving on well-maintained roads and accessing well-distributed services.
As human beings, we all have the same basic needs and desires. So why would LaMalfa go to such pains to argue that his constituents are special, that they have more basic needs and less human desires?
I would argue that he does so to defend his efforts to tear up the public sphere which benefits his constituents just as much as residents of large cities to the south. LaMalfa has a long career of working with his fundamentalist party to de-fund public schools, disembowel public universities, dismantle social welfare, disempower workers, and de-regulate powerful interests which seek to exploit middle and working class Californians whether they live in Redding or Richmond or Riverside. LaMalfa signed the “no taxes come hell or high water” pledge to Grover Norquist, and the “no action on climate change” pledge to the Koch Brothers, voiding his oath to his constituents and his Republic.
But that doesn’t make for a very nice story to tell his constituents. No voter wants to hear that his or her representative has leased his office to the highest bidder and is selling out the public interest to corporate interests. And so instead LaMalfa has to try to convince his constituents that unlike Californians in San Francisco and Los Angeles, they don’t want or need affordable healthcare run according to the public interest instead of according to the interests of the insurance industry. He has to convince them that unlike Californians in San Francisco and Los Angeles, they don’t want or need their children to attend well-funded schools and attend quality universities. He has to convince them that unlike other Californians, they don’t need a social safety net or rights as workers. He has to convince them that unlike other Californians, they are okay with economic inequality, befouled water, polluted air, and an unregulated financial sector.
It’s a lie which is wearing pretty thin. A resuscitation of the mythic State of Jefferson is not what the north state needs. It needs much the same as the rest of California: a reinvigoration of the public sphere, a revitalised democracy, and a commitment to empowering workers and restoring equality to our society.