The Consequences of Political Apathy

I attended the California GOP State convention earlier this month. I am a delegate to the California State Party and am feeling bold about admitting my affiliation tonight. I had the pleasure of hearing Kevin McCarthy, House Majority Leader, Steven Moore of the Club For Growth (one of the most powerful political action committees) and Grover Norquist, President of Americans for Tax Reform, who is hilarious. From the edge of the room echoed my spasms of laughter. It was embarrassing.

Here is the alarming thing that I am not seeing in the press: contrary to expectations, the state and local tax deduction is not likely to rejoin the new tax plan. With the majority of both houses and some happy words about the tax overhaul, the Republican/Trump tax plan looks like it will be passed by Christmas. The promise out of Norquist is that while Republicans are able, they will reduce taxes every year, refining what has been started with the new administration.

In my opinion, lower taxes are the sweetest songs we could hear out of Washington. I believe this with even greater conviction each time I meet a political type. The government is not the best custodian of your money. A government with less money may even translate into a more judicious use of the funds at their disposal. Perhaps even fewer remodelings of freeway entrances in the Bay Area…or high speed trains connecting places with low population density.

But there is a problem with this tax overhaul in Washington D.C., a problem for California. We have been largely forgotten. High tax states, all Democratic (of course), stand to lose the local and state tax deduction. While this is a problem for the high tax brackets, it is these same tax brackets that make up the bulk of tax revenue. These high earners will be incentivized to move to lower or no tax states for tremendous tax savings. It would place California at a competitive disadvantage. If this phenomenon plays out (which it does already), it would impair revenue for the entire state. Everyone would be affected. That would be one less high speed train that the politicians could build.

In terms of membership, California is the largest Republican party in the nation. And yet, we have only 14 members of Congress. Out of a potential 55 slots—53 in the House of Representatives and 2 Senate seats—California Republicans account for only 14 House seats and no Senate seats. When they caucus, there is only a small voice to argue for California’s interests. And so the Republican agenda migrates away from policies that would better serve California. The largest state in the country is under represented in the Capitol.

Conventional wisdom attributes this to the profound Democratic leaning of the state. However, political apathy may be equally accountable. When election turnouts can trend as low as 9% in some off-cycle races, it certainly speaks to the lack of civic involvement by the population.

It is understandable. Much of the population is transient and, if not transient, transplanted. It takes a while to connect with civic issues. It takes some time to feel a sense of ownership over political events. It may even take a lifetime to understand that the ability to vote for your leadership is a sacred privilege. Maybe then, California will have fair representation within both parties instead of just one.