Imagine for a moment, if you would, that Apple was in charge of governing the Golden State. The thought occurred to me recently when a dining companion told me not to worry about the abysmal battery life on my iPhone. "It is Apple, they'll fix it," she said, reassuringly. I quickly agreed and will now wait (not so patiently) for Apple to wave its magic wand and send me a solution.
A few moments later the conversations turned to the latest dismal news concerning our state's budget. We spoke about the many people struggling to obtain the most basic necessities like food, clothing, shelter and medical care. (Suddenly the battery life on my iPhone seemed less than important). And no one at the table thought anyone from Sacramento would be sending a "fix" anytime soon.
Now I do understand that fixing battery or antenna problems is quite different from finding a solution to the state's budget, but has anyone, anywhere in California heard the words, "oh, I'm sure our legislators will fix it" in reference to what ails California?
Can we learn anything from the fairly high level of faith accorded to Apple, and the record low approval ratings of our public officials? This is by no means meant to be an exhaustive or complete list, but here are a few thoughts.
Presumably people hired to work at Apple are among the best at what they do. Their positions are coveted. If they do not do well, I would guess they would not last long.
The people elected to run the Golden State, by contrast, are often described as the best in a lackluster group of candidates. (Lackluster is often replaced with harsher adjectives, but we'll give our officials the benefit of the doubt here). Our officials really only lose their jobs when they are termed out, and even then they often move on to other positions in government.
If and until we clean up our electoral and governmental processes, it is difficult to think that any of this will change. Our electoral processes, for example, are sadly driven by an endless cycle of fundraising and campaign spending. The reform we need will not come piecemeal, initiative by initiative. What we need is much more sweeping, more comprehensive reform. We need to reevaluate that bloated, constantly changing document we call our state's constitution.
Until that type of broad reform takes place, I will take comfort only in the fact that I may get some increased talk time on my phone, but will have little hope for many fixes from Sacramento.
Jessica Levinson writes about the intersection of law and government every Monday. She is a Visiting Professor at Loyola Law School.