California: The View from Texas

America’s biggest state is now getting its own Breitbart page. Or is it its second, counting Big Hollywood? Or its third, given Big Government’s content? If California is to make its way back to more liberty and less government--and America needs her to find her way back--then a Breitbart site dedicated to this proposition is a requisite.  

As part of this inaugural effort, I was asked to pen a California refugee’s perspective. 

Our family moved to Texas in December 2011. Moving 1,300 miles wasn’t a lightly-taken decision. Other than a couple of years working for President Ronald Reagan in the Pentagon, I spent my adult life in California. I moved from Washington State to the Eastern High Sierra in 1976 to attend high school in Mammoth Lakes, went to Cal State Fullerton and graduated from Claremont McKenna College, got married, and began a lucrative career in aerospace.

During six years’ service in the California State Assembly, I voted “no” a lot more frequently than my 119 colleagues as I opposed the relentless expansion of government in California’s capital. I suppose I should have seen the move to Texas coming, given the regularity with which I made reference to Texas on the Assembly floor as a model for California to emulate. 

While running for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate in 2010 I traveled 100,000 miles up and down the Golden State, from Redding to El Centro, and Bishop to Lakeport and points in between. I’ll never forget the rally in Modesto’s Tenth Street Plaza on April 15, 2010 when I recited the Declaration of Independence’s preamble, “We hold these truths to be self-evident...” and was stunned to hear the crowd speak it too; showing that the “ancient faith,” as Abraham Lincoln called it, still beat strong in the hearts of Middle America. (I quipped that there must have been a bunch of homeschoolers in the audience for this to happen; the laughter from several parents and children, out in public during school hours, confirmed it.)

The campaign had its inspirational moments, but I also saw depressed communities, suffering under crushing unemployment and stifling regulations. The other California--the one more than an hour away from the cool waters of the Pacific--was deeply distressed then and remains so today. It is this other California that demands to be considered as pols and pundits rightly lavish praise on Google, Facebook, eBay and THE NEXT BIG THING. California isn’t just a coastal strip where the beautiful people live, and the titans of information accumulate billions in net worth. 

In November 2010 the (then) six-year limit on my term in the State Assembly ran out. At the same time, my wife and I took in her parents. Our house in Irvine, adequate for two adults and two children, became crowded. Taking a flight of stairs to reach a full bath was especially problematic. I looked into returning to aerospace, but the last of the big headquarters where I performed most of my work had decamped to greener, less taxing pastures. Working in my old profession would mean living out of a suitcase in places like Virginia and Florida. 

It was then that a former staffer, a native Texan, suggested I look into applying to work at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, America’s largest state-level free market think tank. I wrote a book for them, the research for which became my due diligence, and months later we moved to the Texas Hill Country between Austin and San Antonio. Half of my neighbors are former Californians. Best of all, I’m able to pursue my passion: advocating for policies that promote liberty and its fruit, prosperity--and do so while living in a house that’s 70 percent larger, has a full bath downstairs for my in-laws, and costs $110,000 less than our old California home. 

I’ve come to a greater appreciation about California’s many paradoxes after living for two years and four months in the Lone Star State:

  • California is beautiful, but that beauty comes at a cost in earthquakes and air pollution. Earthquakes help make the mountains, but the mountains and the cold Pacific waters conspire to create pollution-trapping inversion layers such that the U.S. EPA notes California as having 19 of the 25 worst metro areas for either particulate or ozone pollution in 2012 compared to only 3 in Texas. 
  • That California’s taxes are so high that it collected 52 percent more as a share of income in taxes at the state and local level than did Texas in 2011; further, that if California completely eliminated either its income tax or its sales tax, it would still tax more income than does Texas.
  • Tax a lot, spend a lot: as a share of the private economy, California spent 48 percent more than did Texas at the state and local level in 2013. 
  • California has America’s greatest concentration of poverty, with some 23.8 percent of the population considered poor by a new U.S. Census Bureau calculation that takes into account the value of government benefits such as Medicaid and food assistance as well as taxes and the cost of living. This compares to 16.4 percent in Texas and means that proportionately, there are 45 percent more Californians living in poverty than there are Texans. 
  • As for welfare, California dominates the nation, with 33.2 percent of the national Temporary Assistance for Needy Families caseload in 2013. By comparison, 12 percent of Americans live in California.
  • The role of unions is vastly different in the two biggest states: in California, they dominate; in Texas, a Right-to-Work state, they play a more modest part.  
  • California’s renewable energy policies have led to higher electricity prices: California’s electricity prices were 45 percent higher than the national average on 2013, up from 38 percent higher in 2012; Texas’ electricity prices were 13 percent below the national average in 2013. Former State Sen. Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto) was a big booster of the policies that have driven California’s electricity costs higher, saying at a Santa Cruz town hall in 2009 that his renewable bills would: “clean the air” “deal with the issue of global warming right now in a serious way” “we can diversify our energy portfolio so that we’re not at risk the way we were back in 2001” “and those green jobs that everyone keeps talking about, they can come to California…” . In 2000, California’s retail electricity was 26 percent more costly than the U.S. average--but the high-end residents of Santa Cruz and Palo Alto who live in a mild climate don’t much care about electricity bills or their effect on factory workers in Stockton. Ironically, back in 2002, California imported 23 percent of its electricity, now, after years of renewable “diversification,” California imports 30 percent of its electricity. 
  • The cost of living in California is a big deal, and not all of it is driven by California’s good weather, rather, restrictive zoning, development fees, taxes and other regulations add up to 60% to the cost of housing which, in turn, affects the cost of living. In 2013, California’s cost of living was 128 percent of the national average which is a big reason why California’s supplemental poverty rate was the nation’s highest
  • Lastly, it’s illuminating to note that about 18 percent of the lawmakers in California’s majority party in the last term had experience in business, farming or medicine before their election. This compares to 71 percent in Texas. The most common professions among California lawmakers: trial attorney, government employee, and community activist. 

But not all is lost. The recent uprising among California’s largely quiescent Asian community over a crass attempt to use reverse discrimination to deny largely Asian students’ access to California’s elite universities points to an inherent weakness in the governing coalition. The weakness being that California’s governing coalition is based on group allegiances that will increasingly come into conflict with one another. 

Power, perks and privilege can only be spread so thin before groups begin to perceive the costs as outweighing the benefits. 

The Hon. Chuck DeVore is the Vice President of Policy at Texas Public Policy Foundation. Follow him on Twitter @chuckdevore.


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