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California Government and Politics

The basic form of law in California is a republic, governed by democratically elected state Senators and Assembly members. The governing law is a constitution, interpreted by the California Supreme Court, whose members are appointed by the Governor, and ratified at the next general election. The constitution can be changed by intiatives[?] passed by voters. Initiatives can be proposed by the governor, legislature, or by popular petition, giving California one of the most flexible legal systems in the world. The constitution makes the California legislature bicameral, with a Senate and an Assembly. It also defines an executive branch headed by a governor. The Governor has the authority to administer all government actions, and call on the militia. A unique property of the state constitution is that it requires 40% of the state budget to be spent on education. As a result, California has one of the best-funded school systems anywhere.

A unique institution is the state legislative analyst, whose office of several hundred persons analyzes the effects of laws for the California legislature. The analyst's most visible public act is to write the impartial ballot booklet analyses of likely effects of initiatives and bond measures placed before the voters.

There have been several constitutional crises over the last twenty years: The passage of term limits for the California legislature (which was hotly argued state-wide, and debated in the supreme court of California); a test of the ratification process for the supreme court (in which a liberal chief justice, Rose Bird[?], was ousted); and a full-fledged tax revolt, "Proposition 13," which resulted in the freezing of property tax rates at the property's last sale price. Various anti-tax organizations remain well-funded and active.

Because most of the population is in cities, California tends to be liberal. The major tension in California is between the money, which lies in the Central Valley agricultural districts, with conservative, mostly Republican farmers, and the cities, where most voters are Democrats.

The most sought-after legislative committee appointments are to banking, agriculture and insurance. These are called "juice" committees, because they aid in the fund-raising of their members.

In general, the most divisive single issues concern water and water rights. Water is limited, mostly from mountain runoff (70%), wells (limited by salt-water incursion and overuse), and some Colorado River water (strictly limited by treaties with the other western states and Mexico). Waste water reclamation in California is already routine (for irrigation). City-dwellers' property taxes pay for most water projects, but 75% of the water is used by farmers. This causes periodic water-rights initiatives and tax revolts in the cities, especially during droughts, when city water is rationed so farmers can keep fruit trees and vineyards alive. Also, most water is in the north of the State, while most people are in the south. This causes many north vs. south disputes, the most famous being the Peripheral Canal[?], a proposed project to divert water from the Sacramento River delta (the Bay Area[?]) to Southern California (Los Angeles).

Land use is also divisive. High land prices mean that ordinary people keep a large proportion of their net worth in land. This leads them to agitate strongly about issues that can affect the prices of their home or investments. The most vicious local political battles concern local school boards (good local schools substantially raise local housing prices) and local land-use policies. In built-up areas it is extremely difficult to site new airports, dumps, or jails. Graft and developer influence on local politics might be rife, since many cities routinely employ eminent domain to make land available for development. A multi-city political battle was fought for several years in Orange County concerning the decommissioning of the huge El Toro Marine airbase. Orange County needs a new airport (pilot unions voted the existing airport, John Wayne, the least safe in the U.S.), but the noise might reduce land prices throughout the southern part of county, including wealthy, politically-powerful Irvine, California.

Gun control is another divisive issue. In the cities, California has one of the U.S.'s most serious gang problems, and in some farming regions, some of the highest murder rates. The state also contains many individuals who desire to keep and bear arms in defense of themselves, their families and property. These facts motivated the legislature to pass gun-control laws. Private purchase of semi-automatic rifles that look like military rifles is a felony. The law does not prohibit sales of semi-automatic hunting-style civilian weapons, which might be intended to be a distinction without a real difference. Pistols may be purchased and kept in one's home or place of business, but it is illegal to carry weapons or ammunition outside these areas without a concealed weapons permit, except in a locked area (car trunk) to licensed practice ranges or other legitimate uses (hunting, repair, collection, etc.) Most people find it impossible to get concealed weapons permits since they are issued at the arbitrary discretion of the local law enforcement officials. California is not a "shall issue" state for concealed weapons permits. (This information should not be taken as legal advice.) (ref. section 12000 of the California State Penal Code at http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/calaw)

An excellent reference is "California, Its Government and Politics" by Michael J. Ross.

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