"Kansas needs to be less like California"--that is one of Kansas Governor Sam Brownback's favorite applause lines.
I have been hearing things like this for 30 years. Sometime around 1984 the spinmasters of the Republican Party decided that California was no longer the Future, no longer the home of Ronald Reagan and even of Richard Nixon and Herbert Hoover, but was instead someplace sinister, alien, weird--unAmerican. I remember first noting this in 1984 at the Republican National Convention. It was still-registered Democrat UN Ambassador Jeanne Kirkpatrick whom the spinmasters assigned the undignified task of saying:
They always blame America first: those San Francisco Democrats!
The subtext was very clear then. The subtext is still very clear now.
But let us stick to the text.
Should Kansas strive in the future to be "less like California"?
Along two dimensions, I say that the answer is certainly: "Yes!":
California's voter initiative system is a disaster for good government. It is a legacy of an extremely naïve Progressive belief that the people would speak through the initiative process and outflank the special-interests. But brutal experience has proved that the special interests have a much easier time persuading 51% of voters then 51% of state representatives who can see them coming.
California's Republicans a generation ago entrenched Proposition 13. That means the local jurisdictions can never raise enough money from property taxes on developments to pay for the local services that developments require. Thus California's population is now growing slowly; California real estate prices are sky high; and everyone who owns property in California is now an avid supporter of the continuation of Proposition 13. That is good for those of us with California real estate holdings worth in the seven figures, bad for people who would like to move to California, and bad for the country as a whole.
Please, Kansas, do not repeat these two big mistakes!!
Otherwise, California looks like quite a nice place to imitate. It is rich, tolerant, entrepreneurial, technologically-advanced, science-loving, welcoming (save for real estate pric and rent levels), and eager to take advantage of what the future brings.
This was brought home to me last August when we drove the Reverse Overland Trail: Berkeley through the Altamont Pass and across the Central Valley to Yosemite; through Yosemite and over the Sierra Nevada through Tioga Pass; across the Nevada of ghost towns and mysterious federal land reservations to the remarkable place where Interstate 15 intersects Interstate 70 at a town with population zero; across Utah and Colorado through the Rocky Mountains via Vail to Denver; Denver to the Colorado-Kansas border; and then the slog across the whole width of Kansas to the not-so-wide Missouri River, and to Kansas City.
The big contrast was between the first day--California's Central Valley--and the last day--Kansas's Prairie.
California was hotter and drier. The people of California's farm belt were poorer. But the people in California seemed busier: they seemed eager to and trying hard to make a little more for themselves, and in a way that the people of Kansas were not.
Some of it is that the reverse Overland Trail in California is also the Yuppie Trail. Wherever you go, there are the rich people from SF in LA, and increasingly from Sacto and San Diego, driving about in their Cadillacs and Mercedes and Lexuses searching for amusement had willing to spend money to be amused. Satisfying their demand is a way to get ahead, and there is no equivalent Yuppie Trail population making their way through Kansas.
Some of it, again, is SF and LA. Because the two megalopoles are close by it is worthwhile for the farm belt to spend some of its energy making things that require special and careful handling--and thus a lot of it, making agriculture rather more labor intensive and thus more filled with busy people. The alternative agriculture producing things to be shipped a thousand miles before they are consumed is much more capital intensive.
But it seemed to me that there was more. And the more seemed to be intimately tied up with the fact that today the first language California Central Valley is Spanish...