Monday, May 10, 2010

"What Matters Most"

In 1978, the voters of California passed Proposition 13, amending the state constitution via an initiative process, in an effort to provide tax relief to property owners.

The reason some believed that tax relief was necessary was that, during the seventies, California property values had shot way up. As a consequence, property taxes had shot up commensurately.

Some people thought the tax increase was reasonable.

“Your house is worth more, you pay higher taxes on it.”

Others, precursing the Reagan-era “Taxpayers’ Revolt”, were righteously incensed.

“My house is only worth more ‘on paper.’ The check I am required to write now is for actual money.”

As a result of Prop 13’s passage, institutions whose budgets relied on property tax revenues, found their funding severely cut. Among them were schools, parks, libraries, police and fire departments. Following the cuts, the California school system, previously rated first in the country fell to forty-eighth. Many believe there’s a connection.

Essential to this story is the fact that, while property taxes were skyrocketing, the California state legislature did nothing. Their neglect of this issue opened the door to Proposition 13.

Why do I dredge up this ancient history? To relate it to current history.

Recently, the state of Arizona passed a law, dealing with the problem of illegal immigration. Though the change came via the legislative rather than the initiative process, the message was the same:

The people of Arizona, through their representatives, though I’m certain the “reps” were aware of their constituents’ predilections in this matter, believing that the Federal government was dragging its feet concerning illegal immigrants, took action to handle the problem themselves. Unfortunately, as with Proposition 13, their solution was highly problematic.

Arizona police are now legally required to detain people they reasonably suspect to be in the country illegally, and are authorized to charge immigrants with a state crime for not carrying immigration documents. From a Constitutional standpoint, I’m not even sure you can do that. But that’s what they did.

There are many ways to look at a story:

You can look at the Arizona immigration story as the White Guys versus the darker-colored guys.

You can frame it as “Amur’kins” versus “those dern fur’ners.”

You can view the story from the “There are people breaking the law” perspective.

You can see it from “Every nation has the right to determine who comes into their country, just as homeowners have the right to decide who comes into their house.”

You can look at the immigration story from the standpoint of businesses closing their eyes when they’re hiring workers, because their only concern is finding somebody to do the job.

You can see the story from the perspective of desperate people doing what desperate people always do – when “where they’re from” can’t feed you, you up and migrate someplace else.

You can talk about a federal government that seems to focus more on political calculation than on trying to make headway on a serious problem.

You can write about a media that’s on top of the story when it’s hot, and “Leave a message, and we’ll get back to you” when it’s not.

To name just eight ways of looking at a story. All of them illuminating, educational and undeniably worthwhile.

I will now offer Perspective Number Nine.

Since every commentator views their perspective as “The Story”, and I choose not to be an exception, I believe my “take” on the Arizona illegal immigration story is the most important one. I do so, because my concern spans all times and places, and infuses all issues.

And here it is.

Whether it's an elected legislature or a public referendum, when reasonable people are unwilling to address legitimate problems with reasonable solutions, extreme people will inevitably jump into the void with extreme solutions.

For further examples: Check the history books. (In California, please call ahead, to see if the libraries are open that day.)


A. Buck Short said...

Earl, I hate to correct you, but here in Texas it's pronounced "Merkin."
In fact rat now I'm in the Super Shuttle on my way to San Jose via Merkin Airlines.

Ah think they keep the plane under an extra large version of one o' them car covers.
Thanks, ahprishatit!

growingupartists2 said...

Beyond wow. Very impressive writing, Earl-o.

Anonymous said...

Earl, as much I as appreciated your series of posts worrying about finding your political voice, it's pretty clear you've nailed it again, just as you did with "Coming Out" a few days back.

Max Clarke said...

I didn't see a strong link between Prop 13 history and the Arizona issue. Maybe the term "extremists" slowed me down.

When government refuses to perform a function it is legally bound to accomplish, moderates or liberals or conservatives who push through a solution will be called extreme. In many cases, the only thing extreme about them is their zeal.

I don't have an opinion about Prop 13 or the Arizona issue. They're deeper than they look, and I don't have a horse in the race.