Leonard Letter Articles on Public Policy – 2007-2008
“Dollars, Donors and Dinner in Spain” – October 15, 2007
When the LA Times or the Sacramento Bee beat up on a
Republican it is not really news, but when they both mug their favorite son it
is big. I have been trying to figure out why the Times and now the Bee are
spending so much time attacking Speaker Fabian Nunez. And for good measure, the
Bee also jumped President Pro Tempore Don Perata. What crimes have these
Democrats committed? They are accused of spending their campaign contributors’
money lavishly. These stories do not accuse them of misspending tax dollars nor
of accepting improper campaign donations. Unfortunately, the law requires
candidates to report how they spend their contributors’ dollars. When Lincoln ran for President, this was private. If any campaign donors did not like what the
candidate was doing, they stopped giving or even asked for their money back.
Now we have a government agency that scrutinizes this private spending instead.
Why would such liberal organs of political correctness attack their own children? George Skelton at the LA Times is honest in that he wants the taxpayers to pay for all campaigns and to have the government decide how campaign money is to be spent. It is simply power. He wants more control over people's lives, including candidates. It is the mind set that even sophisticated campaign donors are still too stupid and need a government agency to protect them.
Did Nunez and Perata spend lavishly? Who besides their donors should care? Actually, I much prefer Nunez buying dinner in Spain to having his money go to elect more liberal clones to the legislature. Given that some of his donors are more conservative than he is, they too, may prefer him buying dinner in Spain than electing more left wingers.
“Ungovernable” – October 29, 2007
Even senior political columnists make freshman mistakes.
Those who cannot figure out the legislature just blame either Proposition 13 or
the two-thirds vote requirement no matter what the problem is. In discussing
the failure of the legislature and Governor Schwarzenegger to agree on health
care reform or a solution to the water crisis, Los Angeles Times columnist
George Skelton explained why he believes California has become “ungovernable.”
He cites gerrymandering, term limits, “political money,” “a ballot initiative
system that has run amok” and “the two-thirds vote requirement for practically
any legislation involving money.”
It is the last item I take issue with today. Skelton wrote, “Gov. Pat Brown's historic water plan didn't require a two-thirds vote and never got one. Today, it would need to.” This is simply not true. Neither the original state water project bills nor Senator Ayala’s Peripheral Canal bill (SB200 of the 1979-80 session that was overturned by referendum in the June 1982 election) received a two-thirds vote. Indeed, the two-thirds vote requirement is not to blame for the implosion in today's public policy. That same vote requirement existed in 1960 and in 1980.
California is not ungovernable because of these rules if at all. California is evenly divided between spenders and payers. When the spenders take a permanent majority the state will eventually collapse.
Two Views of Children – May 27, 2008
Last week the California Supreme Court over-ruled the will of the people by allowing homosexual marriage. A few states to the east, a Texas court was determining that children cannot be removed from their parents’ custody without solid evidence of abuse, neglect, or other danger. While I do not condone or encourage the polygamous living situation in the Texas case, I am heartened by the court’s recognition that children have rights to the presence of their parents despite what the state thinks of the parents’ religious views. I contrast that mightily with the view of the California Supreme Court that parents do not really matter to their children. As Terence P. Jeffrey wrote about the California situation, “The court does not recognize that children have any right whatsoever to a mother and a father.” Indeed, following the court’s logic, children are nothing more than chattel in California. The decision said, “The institution of civil marriage affords official governmental sanction and sanctuary to the family unit, granting a parent the ability to afford his or her children the substantial benefits that flow from a stable two-parent family environment…”
The court seems to be neglecting several points. First, “two-parent family environment” is not the same thing as a mother and a father creating a family under a covenant with God. Second, the ruling ignores the biological imperative that children have, by nature’s law, a mother and a father. Both are critical in the child’s development and children have a right to the nurture of both. Sometimes that is not possible, but for the state to actively encourage the abandonment of that natural law is a tragedy for children. Third, if the state need only concern itself with the legal definitions of the “environment” in which children are raised, then children can be bought and sold and their new “owners” given total control where mothers and fathers used to actually parent.
Read Jeffrey’s complete discussion here:
Staying Grounded– May 27, 2008
About a year ago, Republicans were faced with a slew of candidates for the presidential nomination and the debate centered around which of them was the “real” conservative. Though the answer to that question was never answered satisfactorily and now, sadly, seems irrelevant to picking the next president, I was impressed with a Wall Street Journal piece last week by former candidate Fred Thompson. He offered the following statements as conservative principles that the party must stick to if we are to “win the day again.” These points are valid and deserve recognition by every candidate and officeholder this year:
“Congress cannot repeal the laws of economics. There are no short-term fixes without longer term consequences.
“In a free and dynamic country with social mobility, there will be great opportunity but also economic disparity, especially if the country has liberal immigration policies and a high divorce rate.
“An education system cannot overcome the breakdown of the family, and the social fabric that surrounds children daily.
“Free markets, not an expanding and more powerful government, are the solution to today's problems. Many of these problems, such as health-care costs, energy dependency and the subprime mortgage crisis, were caused in large part by government policies.”
“Big, Not Better”—June 23, 2008
Last week I called for conservatives to re-embrace the concept of limited government. I was then heartened to see an article in the Wall Street Journal by Keith Marsden who has studied governments around the world to compare ten high-tax, big-government states with ten “slimmer governments with revenue and expenditure levels below 40% of GDP.” In those states with trimmer budgets and taxes, he found increases in investment growth and exports, and a GDP increases averaging 5.4%. The big government club did not attract larger investments, their investment growth slowed, their export growth rate was halved, and their annual GDP growth rate dropped over the prior decade. The smaller government group generated surpluses while the bigger governments ran budget deficits. The smaller government group had higher employment rate growth than their counterparts. He concludes, optimistically, “The early supply-siders were right. My findings firmly reject the widely held view that lower taxes inevitably result in cuts in public services, slower growth and widening income inequalities. Today's policy makers should take note of how tax cuts and the pruning of inefficient government programs can stimulate sluggish economies.” You can view his full study, “Big, Not Better,” at the Centre for Policy Studies:
A Supreme Tribute for Independence Day --- June 30, 2008
The Supreme Court last week issued a decision in District of Columbia et al v Heller that has many liberals hopping mad and has the rest of us revved up to celebrate Independence Day this week. Some are asserting that the upholding of the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms is judicial activism. Such a characterization demonstrates that liberals cannot even correctly define the term, much less truly understand the conservative angst over its actual occurrence. Heller was not judicial activism. It was a simple return to the understanding of the rights envisioned by our founders to prevent tyranny from eclipsing a government by the people. The decision is long, but satisfying reading. I recommend it particularly for those with misgivings about the mainstream media’s ability and willingness to interpret it properly. You may find it here:
It provides a review of history that stretches from ancient Britain to the post-Civil War U.S. It parses vocabulary, as one expects of complex legal matters, but does so in an entertaining way, walking us again through a history of language as well. And if you are feeling as though you have forgotten some of your high school grammar, Justice Scalia helps you there, too, by discussing the relationship of clauses with precise meaning. I provide an excerpt here to encourage you to make this document part of your summer reading. While perhaps not the best thing to take to the beach, it will make you grateful that you live in a country where you have the freedom and prosperity to partake of such pastimes.
“There seems to us no doubt, on the basis of both text and history, that the Second Amendment conferred an individual right to keep and bear arms. Of course the right was not unlimited, just as the First Amendment’s right of free speech was not… Thus, we do not read the Second Amendment to protect the right of citizens to carry arms for any sort of confrontation, just as we do not read the First Amendment to protect the right of citizens to speak for any purpose….
“[H]istory showed that the way tyrants had eliminated a militia consisting of all the ablebodied men was not by banning the militia but simply by taking away the people’s arms, enabling a select militia or standing army to suppress political opponents. This is what had occurred in England that prompted codification of the right to have arms in the English Bill of Rights. The debate with respect to the right to keep and bear arms, as with other guarantees in the Bill of Rights, was not over whether it was desirable (all agreed that it was) but over whether it needed to be codified in the Constitution.”
Obama Likes Windfall Taxes…But Only on Oil --- August 11, 2008
The Wall Street Journal had another wonderful article in response to Senator Obama’s stumping for oil companies to pay “a reasonable share” of their profits to government. Consider this: between 2003 and 2007 Exxon’s profit was about $45 billion. The company paid $64.7 billion in U.S. taxes. Yep, government took a lot more from you at the pump than Exxon did. The Journal then considers that maybe Obama is thinking instead about profit margins as a percentage of sales as far as defining “reasonable.” Well, Exxon’s profit margin was 10% in 2007. Computers had an average profit margin of 13.7%. Appliances, 14.5%. Pharmaceuticals, 18.4%. If Obama is exercised by big profits, maybe these escaped his gaze. Heck, Google’s margin was 25.3%. Where is the outrage?
As put by the Journal, “…a windfall is nothing more than a profit earned by a business that some politician dislikes.”
Senator George Runner is taking on the critics of California’s prisons by offering some facts:
“The problem with stories about California’s prison system is they are based on fiction more than facts; hyperbole more than rational thinking.
“But high drama sells newspapers far more than just telling the boring truth. And everyone knows that newspapers – including titans of yore like the Sac Bee – are struggling.
“So Californians are led to believe that our prison system is wildly out of control and filled with non-violent offenders who are nothing more than victims of medieval laws brought forth by Republicans.
“First, California’s prison population has increased by 13,000 between 1998 and 2008, from 158,000 to 171,000. This 8% increase is far slower growth than the general population increase for that same time period. California’s state population grew almost twice as fast from 33 million people to over 38 million people in the past 10 years.
“Furthermore, all of the prison growth can be attributed to inmates committed for violent crime including an increase of 6,300 for homicide, 2,500 for child molestation, and 2,400 for robbery. During the same period, the population of inmates committed for property and drug crimes declined by 1,100 and 9,600 respectively.
“Second, California’s incarceration rate is not
extraordinarily high. On January 1, 2008, California had fewer prison
inmates than Texas and ranked 16th among the states in prison incarceration
rate and 21st in overall incarceration (including jails).
“Third, Republicans get blamed for tough sentencing laws, but the truth is most of our public safety legislation barely gets a public hearing by the Democrat controlled Legislature. Three Strikes and Jessica’s Law are two examples of tough laws that passed by wide margins on the ballot – not in the Legislature. These laws have resulted in a prison population that is increasingly violent but not fast growing.”
I believe most people would be surprised to know that we only have about 30,000 correctional officers guarding these 171,000 people. That seems like a solid ratio, but consider that while all the prisoners are there all the time, the officers work in shifts, have to leave for medical escorts or court escorts so less than a third of that number are really watching the 171,000 most violent, evil people in our state at any one time. One against 17 is the thin line protecting us from those inside.
Prisoners’ Abusive Lawsuits – September 29, 2008
In the past six years you, the law-abiding California taxpayers, have spent more than $191 million in verdicts, settlements, outside counsel and staff salaries to deal with inmate-initiated litigation. That is over and beyond what you spent to incarcerate these people in the first place. This is an extra nearly $200 million on a prison system that is already in federal court with billions of dollars at stake and where we have discussions about releasing some prisoners early. The group Californians Against Lawsuit Abuse (CALA) reports identifies some of the outrageous filings that clog our system and cost you money:
1 In 2005, an inmate sued employees of Corcoran State Prison for issuing a “blanket ban on incoming catalogs” as well as denying him access to “For Him Magazine,” a men’s magazine that frequently features photographs of scantily-clad women. Martinez v. Velasquez (US District Court, Eastern District of CA: CIV-F-05-0077) was settled for $151.
2 In 2007, Gregory Lynn Norwood, who is serving life without parole for first degree murder and robbery, brought a suit against Folsom State Prison for depriving him of outdoor time during extended lockdown sessions, which resulted from prisoner attacks on staff. Norwood claimed these lockdowns, instituted to ensure the safety of both employees and prisoners, caused him to suffer from stress, anxiety, depression, headaches, and muscle cramps. A federal court jury awarded Norwood $11 in compensatory damages and $39,000 in punitive damages.
3 In 1992, death row prisoner Randy Kraft sued author Dennis McDougal and Warner Books for publishing a study of his case, claiming it smeared his “good name” and “hurt his prospects for future employment.” Kraft, who was convicted of 16 murders and suspected of committing many others, sought $62 million in damages. While the lawsuit was dismissed, it cost McDougal and Warner some $50,000 in legal not to mention the cost incurred by state courts to process the suit.
Find the full report here:
Getting Stuck --- December 8, 2008
While calling the new legislature into special session to deal with the mess that is our state budget last week, Governor Schwarzenegger criticized legislators for getting “stuck” in their ideologies and not reaching solutions on the budget crisis.
The mainstream media has piled onto his recent round of comments and the analysis takes the
tone that politicians should leave their “beliefs outside the door.” The notion that I do not want you to come into my office unless you agree to abandon everything you believe in is impractical and unreasonable.
Candidates campaign on two levels: ideology and
character. Ideology is the candidate’s platform, the campaign promises,
and the belief system that the candidate uses to explain to voters “this is how
I will decide issues.” Character is the complementary notion that you can
trust me to do what I say I will do. To ask elected officials to break this
contract with their constituents is wrong.
Furthermore, I like elected officials with a belief system. The honest liberal passion of former Senator Nick Petris is what made debates in the Senate useful and enlightening. It is an honor in my belief system to call former Senator Newt Russell or Congressman-elect Tom McClintock
the conscience of the Senate. I love discussing issues with people who care, who are knowledgeable, and who delight in defending their point of view.
So when the Governor and the media condemn elected officials
for being “stuck” with a point of view, it does not help matters. My experience
in both politics and parenthood tells me that when you condemn people for their
positions, they will dig in harder. Legislators need to come to the table WITH
their ideologies and write a budget that their constituents can accept. The
worst scenario would be for a group of people who do not believe in anything to
gather together and write a budget. How awful that would be.