Mass Transit

Rejoice, Californians! The High-Speed Rail Vote Shows the System Working!

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Smooth. So smooth.

Sure, the decision to commit billions of dollars to the first leg of a high-speed rail project in rural California may bankrupt the state, but the important thing is that legislature operated in a functional manner!

This is the bizarre theme of Los Angeles Times political columnist George Skelton in Thursday's paper. "Sure you drove off a cliff, but you kept your hands on the wheel at ten and two and you weren't speeding!"

That's not a direct quote. But this is:

We're talking about functional versus dysfunctional, leadership versus ineptitude — a system that is running smoothly rather than broken.

We're not necessarily talking about a desired policy result. Sometimes you lose. (If you're a California Republican, you usually do in Sacramento.)

Interesting how he wants to argue that "running smoothly" is the opposite of "broken." In our alleged two-party system, one party has so little power in California that it is isn't even a speedbump in the way of the other party doing whatever it wants in the legislature. The only checks on the Democratic Party are other Democrats who are worried about their own electoral future. That's a pretty smooth system all right, and completely, utterly broken.

Skelton talks us through the sausage-making of the vote, showing how smoothly Gov. Jerry Brown and Democratic leaders promised whatever the hell they needed to promise in order to wrangle state senators' votes for the project. Here are some examples of that smooth system:

The fourth Democratic opponent, Sen. Fran Pavley of Agoura Hills, was given a pass. She's in a tight reelection race in a newly redrawn district where the bullet train isn't particularly popular. So she was allowed to quietly vote "no" without any repercussion in the Capitol. …

Sen. Louis Correa (D-Santa Ana) wanted assurances that Orange County wouldn't be punished in future bullet train funding because of local tea-party opposition to the project. Brown assured him. …

Sen. Gloria Negrete McLeod (D-Chino) cast the 21st vote that officially put the bill over the top. Roads were deteriorating in her district, she complained. So the Brown administration promised to prioritize some for repair. Also, Steinberg got a promise from Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers union, to quietly help Negrete McLeod with Latinos in her congressional race.

How nice of the Capitol to give Pavley permission to actually represent the wishes of her voters rather than what Brown wanted. The system truly does work!