COLUMN

In California, the jig is up

Allan Fotheringham March 29 1993
COLUMN

In California, the jig is up

Allan Fotheringham March 29 1993

In California, the jig is up

COLUMN

ALLAN FOTHERINGHAM

There is before us, as we shovel the driveway and slip on the ice, always the California Dream. Blonde, carefree girls on the beach in March. Outrageous hunks on their surfboards searching for the ultimate wave. People in shorts and sunglasses headed for the office. The world lusts for California, America’s greatest creation.

In March, 1993, the dream has gone sour. The recession won’t end, the demise of the Cold War has snapped the largest and richest state into reality and a growth that can’t be controlled has turned into racial tensions that frighten even the most courageous.

try on earth—is strangled by its dream. It has 110,000 prisoners in its federal prisons. That’s more than double all those locked in federal prisons in the rest of the United States.

It costs $25,000 a year per prisoner. That’s on top of the $100,000 it costs to build and maintain a cell. It’s cheaper to send your kid to Stanford. The fastest-growing increase in the state budget is for prisons. The most powerful union in the state is the prison guards union. Last year, it gave $3 million to the election campaign of Gov. Pete Wilson. It is the only Republican trade union currently on record.

‘We don’t make anything here,” explains B. T. Collins in his tiny Sacramento office, decorated with Reader’s Digest reprints detailing his war heroism. “We don’t make cars. Dpfpnrp k o-ning. The only thing we make is pay $7 for an orange in Tokyo. Do they help us? Of course not” (B. T. Collins dies the day after this interview, of a massive heart attack, at 52, while waiting to meet with Gen. Colin Powell, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to protest the base closings.)

California has a problem. By law, dictated by the dream voters who won’t sacrifice, the state is not allowed to have a deficit. So, state Treasurer Kathleen Brown—sister of former governor Jerry Brown, daughter of former governor Pat Brown—estimates that the jurisdiction that everyone envies will probably run out of money entirely in April or May, some time short of the June budget No one has the faintest idea what to do then. The voters who won’t sacrifice, won’t.

The state that sends the largest number of congressmen to Washington is pleading, on the closing of bases, with a President who won election on the promise—it’s the economy, stupid!—that he would slash spending wherever he could find fat.

He finds fat in a state that has grown rich on military bases and leading-edge computer industries that are built on satellites and Flash Gordon futuristics. In the meantime, the influx of wetbacks from Mexico and immigrants from the Pacific Rim has turned Los Angeles into a powder keg ready to blow.

The golden girls on the beach and the blow-dried boys on their roller blades on Muscle Beach now look nervously at their designer watches, telling them how much time they have before the Rodney King verdict. We’ve had the earthquakes and the devastating brush fires.

Now the time is up. When’s the next plane out of this paradise?

B. T. Collins sits in his office in the state capitol in Sacramento, in the arid flatlands 90 minutes away from the sybarite delights of San Francisco, waves the hook on the end of his right arm in disdain and quotes Solzhenitsyn. “This is the most spoiled nation on earth. It has too many freedoms.”

B. T. Collins lost an arm and a leg in Vietnam. He is a Republican veteran legislator in a Democratic state, so trusted that he served as chief of staff for a Democratic governor, Jerry Brown, who disdained the governor’s mansion, instead sleeping on the floor of his apartment, sometimes with Linda Ronstadt.

The problem with this spoiled state, explains B. T. Collins with extreme contempt, is that it doesn’t understand the word sacrifice. It has been brought up on the image of the leggy blondes and the surfing hunks, and can’t get off it while the world has changed.

The world changed and the Cold War ended and suddenly we didn’t need all that rocketry and high-tech missile industry that kept California out there on the edge. A Bill Clinton came along and said that we have to get serious about the deficit and slice military bases that have been kept alive more to keep congressmen’s jobs than to arm us against an enemy that doesn’t exist any more.

Suddenly, Sacramento realizes that the closing of the McClellan Air Force Base will cost 15,000 jobs when the economy is already

on the downturn. Suddenly, the Oakland A’s, eager to get the World Series championship back from the Toronto Blue Jays, with a $40 million payroll that almost matches the outrageous Toronto total, realize that the base cutback will deprive them of the patronage of the 5,500 personnel and families of the visiting battleships at the dock down by the bay.

Down in Los Angeles, the most significant shift in the economy is the swift escalation in the sale of plywood at the lumber stores. That would be in anticipation of the verdict in the second Rodney King trial, while the city tenses over further uncontained violence that is openly expected if a jury should replicate the incredible acquittal of the thug cops who beat into a pulp—before the videotaped view of a world audience—a hapless black drunk.

The state that with 31 million denizens has a larger population than Canada—and has (had?) the sixth largest economy of any coun-