Here's a simple truth: Journalists and columnists love good drama. We're not vultures -- we cover events like Columbine, 9/11, and the Iraq war because it's part of the job. But in reality, we like passionate, colorful, sprawling, combative stories that illuminate our times, make a difference, and don't involve violent death.
That's why we all want to be in California for the next two months. We long to write about the California recall the way that a young dog longs to get out of the yard and rampage through the neighborhood. So, under the flimsiest of pretexts (lots of Californians have migrated to Colorado Springs in the last decade -- ergo, the California recall is a local story!) I'm jumpin' the fence.
For those of you who have been living under a rock, California Gov. Gray Davis is facing a recall election in 54 days. Should he be recalled, voters will decide who should replace him.
And in California, it's easy to run: pay a $3,500 filing fee, get the signatures of 65 registered voters, and that's it. That's why a smorgasbord of Californians will appear on the recall ballot, including actors Arnold Schwarzenegger and Gary Coleman, comedian Leo Gallagher, columnist/crazed babe Ariana Huffington, pornographer Larry Flynt, Olympics honcho Peter Ueberroth, Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, and about 90 others.
As you can imagine, the usual grim cast of no-fun Democrats (Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Hillary Clinton, the New York Times editorial page) are against the whole thing. It's a travesty, a circus, a symbol of California's lunatic political culture, etc., etc. Closer to home, Democrats and Republicans are each blaming the other party for California's problems, and warning that the same thing'll happen to Colorado if we don't watch out.
Let's look at California. Start with Proposition 13 in 1979, which, by freezing property tax rates, underfunded the school system. Add millions of immigrants, legal and illegal, whose children had to be educated. Throw in a score of initiatives that mandated state funding for various special interests. Mix in a term-limited state legislature full of angry ideologues of both parties who don't know a thing about government and don't want to learn. Create a vast, clumsy, business-averse bureaucracy to actually run the state.
Finally, top it off with a governor -- Gray Davis hisself! -- who is both a stunningly incompetent administrator and a brilliant, utterly ruthless politician.
Put all that together, and what do you get? Try a $38 billion budget deficit, sky-high taxes, bankrupt utilities (courtesy of Enron and other merry looters, who, thanks to California's ill-conceived deregulation scheme, made big bucks rigging California energy prices), a depressed economy, and voters who are mad, mad, mad!
And you know what? I think it's great. Clearly, California's a mess and, just as clearly, none of the politicians know how to clean it up. So bring on The Terminator!! Arnold's smart, ambitious, rich and slightly crazy -- just what California needs. He's probably already figured out that California needs to junk two-thirds of its Constitution and start over again, and he's arguably the only guy in the state who has a shot at getting it done.
Never thought that the sequel to Terminator III: The Rise of the Machines would come so quickly: Terminator IV: The End of the Politicians! And if he screws up, so what? Can things get much worse?
Meanwhile, a bunch of our Colorado power people were recently summoned to a powwow at the Bighorn Center for Public Policy in Denver to think deep thoughts about our own state's miseries.
The Bighornsters trumpeted it as the "Colorado 100," an "unprecedented" gathering of the biggest of the big shots. After a few hours of heavy lifting, the attendees agreed that, yup, the state's a mess, and, yup, it's all because of those wacky voter-approved initiatives, mainly TABOR, the Gallagher Amendment, and Amendment 23. Well, that may be, but I dunno whether the power people can do much to fix things.
Predictably, TABOR author Doug Bruce was not invited to this particular goat rope. The Dougster's the 800-pound gorilla of state tax policy -- leaving him out is like having a conference on race and slavery without any black people.
But had Bruce been there, it wouldn't have mattered. The power people didn't create the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights; like Amendment 23, it came from an angry, exasperated, and disenfranchised electorate. Those voters are not about to respond to a bunch of earnest, overeducated richies in good suits. They need a movie that speaks their language ... Terminator V: Arnold Comes to Colorado.