Does California Need a Commission on the Status of Women?

The California Commission on the Status of Women bills itself as an “independent, non-partisan agency working to advance the causes of women.” That claim invites scrutiny of the Commission’s 2009-2010 priorities. Look at what we find at the very top of their list.

“Establish a universal health care system to provide access to affordable comprehensive health care for all California residents.” That sounds a lot like SB 840, the California Universal Health Care Act, a measure for government monopoly health care – which is what “universal” means in practice. The author of that legislation was state senator Sheila Kuehl, a rather partisan Democrat who, not surprisingly, once served on the California Commission on the Status of Women. What a cozy world.

Mary Wiberg, executive director of the Commission, told PRI they had not specifically endorsed SB 840 (which the governor vetoed) but that “universal” care was the direction California needs to go. PRI asked if the Commission had consulted any women from places where government monopoly care already prevails, and whether it posed any difficulties for women.

Ms. Wiberg said they had not. She had not heard about Belinda Stronach, whose story I chronicled in The Top Ten Myths of American Health Care. This former Canadian Member of Parliament opposed private care in Canada’s government system then came to California to pay out of her own pocket for the breast cancer treatment she needed.

Another Commission priority, related to “economic security,” is to “develop, identify and promote financial literacy, planning, and management training targeted to women of all ages, including older women and families, through a variety of delivery systems.” This prompted a question from PRI whether the Commission had ever recommended legislation to help women by improving California’s woeful business climate through economic growth, lower taxes, regulatory reform, a truly balanced budget, and spending reductions.

Executive director Wiberg said the Commission had not done so, and she questioned whether California really was a high-tax, high-regulation state. I find this rather startling, like questioning whether California is really on the west coast. For the record, California ranks 47th out of 50 states in economic freedom, up from an even worse 49th in 2004. From 1998-2007, nearly 1.5 million Californians, many of them women, left the state. Most were looking for jobs, not better beaches.

The Commission dates from 1965 when the California legislature declared, “[D]espite the fact that women apparently have greater equality in California than in many states, they still are not able to contribute to society according to their full potential.” That was highly dubious in 1965, and even if true it did not follow that a new government body was the best response. Many men, after all, fail to contribute according to their full potential, for any number of reasons, but nobody called for a Commission on the Status of Men.

No matter, the Commission on the Status of Women was duly established, a 17-member body including the Superintendent of Public Instruction, the Labor Commissioner, three Assembly members and three senators, along with an executive director, a legislative director and other paid staffers with a budget now in the neighborhood of half a million dollars.

Forty-four years have passed since the Commission’s founding. Are women still unable to contribute according to their full potential?

It has come to my attention that Meg Whitman, a successful businesswoman, is running for governor of California, and that the state’s two U.S. Senators are women. The new chancellor of the University of California at Davis is Linda Katehi, who earned a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from UCLA and holds 16 patents.

In 2009 women are clearly full contributors to society. Ms.Wiberg, even, acknowledged substantial progress since 1965, noting that more than half of law students are now women. Would there ever come a time, however, when the Commission itself might be unnecessary?

“I would like to hope that at some time there would not be a need for this commission,” Ms. Wiberg said. Alas, that would not be any time soon because there is still a need to see issues “through a gender lens,” and the Commission, in her view, serves “a valuable function.”

To adapt a feminist slogan, California needs a Commission on the Status of Women like a fish needs a bicycle. I fail to understand how it’s a valuable function to portray women as a caste of permanent victims and essentially helpless without a government bureaucracy to speak for them. I don’t see much value in linking women’s achievements to the helping hand of Big Brother. Further, I know from experience that the kind of government health care the Commission wants will not help women.

Quite the contrary, in fact, and it also would burden California’s already weak economy. As for former Commission member Sheila Kuehl, author of the California Universal Health Care Act, she is now being paid $132,178 a year in her sinecure on the California Integrated Waste Management Board. To be fair, California should eliminate that board too.

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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