California Politics in 2019: Not Much To Be Happy About


December is about half gone, and, as the Counting Crows’ Adam Duritz once sang, “it’s getting cold in California.” In another song from the same 1996 album Duritz also sang that it’s been “a long December and there’s reason to believe maybe this year will be better than the last.”

We hope 2020 will be better than the last, which was a tough political year in California for the freedom-minded. But there’s little reason to believe it will be. The political history in this state has been repeating itself for some time.

With that in mind, and with no apologies to, but great respect for, director Sergio Leone, Clint Eastwood, and the team of writers who produced the screenplay (and zero apologies for borrowing a theme that has already been used to great excess), here are “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” of California politics from 2019.

The Good

Nothing much to see here aside from Senate Bill 206, the Fair Pay to Play Act. We called it a “freedom revolution for college student-athletes.” Under the law, college athletes can receive “compensation in relation to the athlete’s name, image, or likeness,” which they were not allowed to do due to their amateur status. The liberating idea has been “spreading to other state legislatures,” says USA Today. Rep. Mark Walker, R-N.C., who introduced a similar bill in Congress, said passage of the bill was “like lighting a fuse.” The idea just “took off.”

Also qualifying as a “good” development was a bureaucratic decision made by the California Air Resources Board. It was a long time coming, but the state finally conceded an important point about electric car subsidies that PRI has argued extensively in recent months – these giveaways are subsidizing the rich at the expense of the poor. As senior fellow Wayne Winegarden put it, “the Air Resources Board’s latest change is an acknowledgment that upper-income families are benefitting too much from the tax credit.”

The Bad

  • Modern conveniences, selected words and phrases, and the Second Amendment are no longer welcome in the ban-it-all state. Under the edge of the prohibition ax in 2019 were plastic water bottles, natural gas for residential cooking and heating, as well as those handy plastic bottles of shampoo, conditioner, and body wash hotels leave out for their guests.
  • Ignoring volumes of economic research and cutting ties with common sense, Sacramento created a new rent-control law with Assembly Bill 1492, labeled the Tenant Protection Act. We said when the bill was passed, and still believe today, that it will aggravate the state’s housing crunch.
  • Lawmakers virtually banned charter school expansion in 2019. A package of bills sponsored by the California Teachers Association was “designed to torpedo charter schools,” says Lance Izumi, senior director of PRI’s Center for Education, ensuring “a dead-end future for the children trapped in failing traditional public schools.”
  • California sits on an ocean of crude, but our elected officials are determined to leave it in the ground. In the words of Gov. Gavin Newsom, the Legislature has blocked the federal government “from using state lands to open up drilling on protected federal lands” in order to “defend our state from [Donald] Trump’s attacks.” Newsom was referring to the administration’s “plans to open hundreds of thousands of acres of federal land in Central California to oil and gas leasing, paving the way for more fracking to soon begin in the state.”

Passing laws to spite a president isn’t a legitimate part of the policymaking process, but this is California, home of the resistance. So, it must be OK.

The Ugly

For truth’s sake, Assembly Bill 5 should be called the Worker Anti-Freedom Act, or the Kill The Gig Economy Act. But we’re living out some scenes from George Orwell’s “1984,” so its supporters tells us the legislation is “a bold step forward” for rebuilding the middle class, provides workers with important employment safeguards, and will reshape their future.

That last part is actually true. But the altered future won’t be one most workers will be happy with.

By creating a default system in which every worker must be a hired employee unless the work arrangement can pass a three-point test, lawmakers are strangling worker freedom. Here’s what we said earlier about Sacramento’s effort to in effect ban freelance-contract work:

“AB5 is a pit for Californians earning income as independent contractors, and companies that have built their businesses on using freelance workers. Both are losing choices that are theirs, not the Legislature’s, to make.”

It “is one of the more malicious laws enacted in California in both recent and long-term memory. Yes, some workers celebrated its passage. But the comforts of a few at the expense of the many who have been happy with their occupational choices — and there are many, the Bureau of Labor Statistics finding that ‘79% of independent contractors preferred their arrangement over a traditional job’ — is not a legitimate discharge of lawmakers’ duty. By using their political power to choose winners and losers, they’ve taken California backward yet again.”

We can still hope 2020 will be better than 2019. We admit, though, our experience doesn’t leave much room for optimism.

Kerry Jackson is a fellow with the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.


Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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