Journalist and award-winning writer discuss solutions to California’s financial crisis

John Michael Simko

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Joe Matthews and Mark Paul, authors of “California Crack Up: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It,” discuss their book Tuesday in the Whitsett Room of Sierra Hall. Photo Credit: Paul Kingsley / Photo Editor

The Golden State has lost its luster with its improvising ways and a fundamental reason why California remains a disorganized and disheveled state.

Journalist Joe Mathews and award-winning writer Mark Paul spoke to an audience about their new book, “California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It.”

They discussed California’s problems Tuesday in a lecture presented by the Southern California Studies in the Whitsett Room.

“Unless you have been living under a rock, you are aware that our state is in a terrible mess and has been for some time,” said Josh Sides, director for Center for Southern California Studies, before introducing Mathews and Paul. “Even worse news, if you are actually living under a rock, you’re in big trouble because I think there is a plan to sell our rocks to offset our financial woes.”

Mathews said he and Paul had a shared feeling and frustration.

“What I wanted to do with this book was explain the problems we have with a new narrative that is easy to understand and actually addresses the actual fix we are in, rather than false narratives,” he said. “It’s all about blaming people. Well, there’s some truth to that, but those sets of stories don’t solve the problems.”

California has been founded on a series of improvisations like using Iowa’s constitution as a model to develop their own, Mathews said. They basically used it as a guideline to decide it was easier to borrow money than worry about the future. Californians developed a “something-for-nothing kind of attitude,” paving the tracks for a faulty constitution comprised of improvisation.

“It’s not been the quality of people, but particularly the government crisis we have gotten stuck on,” Paul said. “What’s happened over the last decade? Things have gotten worse financially because we keep kicking the can down the road.”

Mathews said over the course of Californian history, there have been 340 amendments made by voters as single initiatives. Each of these solutions were like “silver bullets,” fixing our problems bit by bit but making it harder to govern and sever fiscal problems.

Mathews said that if an alien were to land in California, it would be so puzzled by all our conflicting governing systems that even it would say “it’s out of this world.”

“How do we go about fixing this problem?” Paul said. “We work together as an integrated system. None of our ideas are new. We have stolen from things that have been proven to work and it’s a very Californian thing we do in the book. The essence of California and what makes us distinctive is our talent to put things together from all parts of the world. That’s our culture.”

Despite having the eighth largest economy and one of the most populous areas in the world, we are the only place in the world that tries to govern itself as a quasi-nation with no real region subdivisions, Paul said.

“Most of our legislative seats are uncompetitive because of the way we have sorted ourselves into communities as red and blue,” Paul said. “Almost every seat is uncompetitive and we need to move toward ‘real elections,’ where we use proportional representation, a system widely used around the world. Proportional representation is a system where every vote counts.”

“Hearing about all these problems, I want to do something,” said Chris Edwards, a 21-year-old history major. “Changes need to be made. No one is acting and I think it would be empowering if someone stood up for once.”

As described in Chapter 4 of their book, Paul points out that “one of the great tragedies of California is we have gone from educators to janitors. We described the arc from California going back to the 1960s/‘70s and having the most widely respected legislature body in the country to sweeping up the messes made by voters in the initiative process.”

“Incredible,” said Will Nims, a 22-year-old history grad student. “I can’t believe that decisions are just being made by only a few. There needs to be better representation in our legislature.”

During the Q&A session, one female student asked what Mathews and Paul thought of gubernatorial candidates Meg Whitman and Jerry Brown vying for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s seat next month.

“None of the above,” Mathews said. “There is some hope for Brown, but not that much. I’d rather vote for Whitman’s money, not necessarily her, because that’s what’s needed. Whoever does get elected, I hope they quickly realize there are flaws in the system.”