Last week's special election in my California state Senate district was SO under-the-radar, that as clued in as I like to believe I am, I didn't know it was happening until I finally listened to the robocalls on my voicemail - about an hour before the polls closed.
The place was pretty quiet. In fact, we were told that only 50 voters had showed up all day.
My candidate did not win - but that's politics. One would hope that whatever a legislator's party, he or she would do whatever possible to represent the needs of the District.
And all of California's districts are in a whole mess of pain right now. New Governor Jerry Brown has been visibly wrestling with our whopping $26 billion budget shortfall.
It's not an easy hole to fix; the Sacramento Bee lets you try it yourself here.
Brown has released a budget proposal with $12.5 billion in cuts that will affect all Californians: $1.7 billion less to Medi-Cal, $1.5 billion to California’s welfare-to-work program (CalWORKs), $500 million to the University of California, $500 million to California State University, and $308 million for a 10 percent reduction in take-home pay for state employees not currently covered under collective bargaining agreements.
But he recognizes that a budget deficiency of this magnitude cannot be closed through spending cuts alone; that the people of our state actually need some infrastructure and basic services - like public education.
Brown's plan depends on an extension of a previous tax hike that was supposed to end this year. Unfortunately, thanks to Proposition 13 - the fourth rail of California politics, and the root of our fiscal problems today - this cannot be done without the approval of the voters. Brown wants to give us that choice in another special election - and surprisingly, most Californians support him.
Predictably, Republican members of the state Senate and Assembly have formed a "Taxpayer's Caucus," vowing to vote against the proposal.
"When you folks say, 'No, no vote, no plan, no,' that's not American," Brown said. "It's not acceptable. And it's not loyalty to California. I don't expect you to agree with me. But I expect you to honestly say, 'I want to cut this.'"
In the meantime, the school board here in Los Angeles is preparing for the worst case scenario. Year after year, they've cut funds for teachers and workers... and the budget they passed last week would completely dismantle the District's successful magnet program.
Now we're talking pain that's really personal: My daughter is a ninth-grader at a high-performing magnet school. If this budget passes, it will pull the rug out from right under her - just when her grades and test scores are starting to count towards college.
Last week, magnet administrators all over the District urged parents to write to our state represenatatives. Yesterday, I got a form letter back from my new state Senator, Sharon Runner:
Dear Ms. Mills:
Thanks for your comments. I appreciate knowing how my constituents feel about the issues. It's going to be another tough budget year so it's important to get feedback from the people who are impacted by the decisions the legislators make, especially with regard to education funding.
In the next couple of weeks I'll be briefed by colleagues and consultants and lobbied by many interest groups and the Governor himself. I'll carefully consider the Governor's proposal but I'm not sure at the moment how I'll be voting. However, I do appreciate your input.
I don't like being cynical. I would like to think that people - even politicians - can be taken at their word.
I went to her website. Her bio describes her as "A lifelong advocate of education." That's good.
But in the second part of that sentence, it says she founded a parochial school that is now one of the largest in all of California. The cynical side of me can't help but think she may be less supportive of all those godless kids in public schools.
And today, I received the following information in her constituent newsletter:
During my campaign for Senate, I pledged to protect the interests of my constituents and vote no on tax increases of any kind. That is the reason one of my first acts as Senator was to join the Taxpayers Caucus;
Oh. So I guess she didn't need a couple of weeks to make up her mind, after all. In fact:
Yesterday, I participated in a press conference (see picture) announcing the caucus...
It goes on with the usual Republican Kool-Aid about balancing the budget by cutting "wasteful spending" and how instead of raising revenue for our schools, she will work to get more tax cuts. WHICH DOESN'T MAKE A LICK OF SENSE WHEN YOU'RE TRYING TO FILL A $26 BILLION HOLE.
We've had years and years of Republican governors and years and years of bad budget compromises (for which I blame both parties). I don't like paying taxes any more than anyone else. But I am just as much a taxpayer, and I want to have an opportunity to have a say on this.
In my email yesterday to Sharon Runner I let her know that I think refusing to allow us the vote is undemocratic. And I think all Californians should let their legislators know that, too.
Donna Schwartz Mills lives in Los Angeles. Her personal blog is SoCal Mom.