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The Leaders of the Tax

by Mytheos Holt, published

Now that the Republican Party in California has officially passed the budget hurdle, the civil war which has plagued the Right since November appears to have come to California. And interestingly, the battle is not between moderates and hard-liners, but rather between different varieties of hard-liners who have different tactics for achieving the hard-line.

One casualty of such purging is former Senate Minority Leader Dave Codgill, about whom the Los Angeles Times recently did a profile. In it, Codgill lays out the arguments for a pragmatic approach in conservative politics, which set him firmly at odds with the current Senate Minority Leader, Dennis Hollingsworth.

Negotiating this ideological impasse becomes easier to the extent that this is a personal fight between Hollingsworth and Codgill, but unfortunately, that is not the case. The truth is that Codgill and Hollingsworth's identities are almost irrelevant where this battle is concerned, as it has been fought out many, many times by Republicans and will likely continue to be negotiated at the point of a metaphysical gun. Still, it is worth using their statements as valid samples of the different approaches, if only to analyze the path which California's GOP feels compelled to tread, and see if it ends up leading somewhere worthwhile.

The current battle between these two figures revolves around the controversial soon-to-be ballot measure Proposition 1A, a measure which imposes voluntary spending limits on California's government while simultaneously extending tax increases by two years. On one side is Dave Codgill, the Los Angeles Times's ultimate "pragmatic conservative" (which to conservatives generally is no endorsement worth having). And Codgill's argument is simple - spending limits are an amazing political coup, especially in California, so a few years of temporary taxes are worth it. Proposition 1A is "a price worth paying in order to get permanent spending reform," as Codgill told the Times.

Supporting Codgill is Mr. Democrats-Only Primary, also known as Abel Maldonado, who told the Times that the battle essentially came down to a question of whether to let the state go belly-up. Maldonado claims that some Republican legislators believe that "We need to prove a point that the majority party got us into this mess." Maldonado asks the obvious rhetorical question, "Then what?", in response. And while it's difficult to admit that moderates like Maldonado have a point, the question of a nonfunctional State casts more of a shadow over this debate than some would like to admit.

So that's the pragmatic side. What about the ideological one? In this court comes Hollingsworth, who says the GOP should not support Proposition 1A, seeing as it will be opposed both by the Left and by the Right simultaneously for wildly different reasons. Hollingsworth's argument, as related by the Alameda Times-Star, boils down to the claim that "People will look at whether they want more taxes in exchange for a spending cap. It's hard to connect how a spending cap really affects your daily life, but a tax increase is very real to people." In other words, while the GOP might get a spending cap in place, they'd be out of power for so long as a result of the unpopular taxes that there'd be no way to prevent the Democrats from perverting their achievements. The battle-lines, therefore, are drawn on the basis of one question: Will the GOP preserve more short-term political efficacy in conditions of budget insolvency or in conditions of high taxation? And intertwined with this question is the question of whether the GOP can be blamed for a budget solution in which they ostensibly had no hand.

The solution to both these questions is unclear, but it depends a great deal on whether the GOP can successfully detach itself from the 5,000 lb gorilla that is Arnold Schwarzenegger's gubernatorial record. Schwarzenegger is not running for anything, so the GOP has a fighting chance at doing this, but if it can do so, then the answer to the above conundrum clearly is to follow Hollingsworth, since his remedy preserves the GOP from blame, effectively allowing them to pick up the pieces after the Democratic mode of governance implodes upon itself.

Assuming, of course, that California survives the blast.

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