Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Iron Law Of Institutions In California

From D-Day:

If you've been watching California politics for a while you may already know this to be true, but for those who ask me why the Republicans are so intransigent and inflexible when it comes to the budget, hear former Assemblyman Ray Haynes (h/t CapAlert) explain to you the reason. It's really really simple and intuitive.

The key problem, I said, was that the Governor and the Democrats were asking Republicans to betray a key principle of a key constituency and get nothing in return. The result to any Republican who voted for that tax increase would be the end of their political career. I know, because, I said, I would do everything in my power to make sure of it for anyone who voted for that tax increase, and I know there are a lot of Republicans who think like me [...]

Democrats are asking Republicans to end their political lives, but are not willing to end their own. Democrat constituency groups are asking Republican constituency groups to sell out their core principles, but are not willing to sell out any of their own.

This is an example of the Iron Law of Institutions, which states: "The people who control institutions care first and foremost about their power within the institution rather than the power of the institution itself. Thus, they would rather the institution "fail" while they remain in power within the institution than for the institution to "succeed" if that requires them to lose power within the institution." It is an expression of self-interest over the greater interests of the state.

You can hardly blame them. Republican primaries in California can get nasty, far worse than their races against Democrats. And the last time Republicans crossed over in any numbers to pass a sensible budget, the far-right fringe of the party punished them - and reinforced the Iron Law.

Democrats and their constituency groups have already made it clear that they are giving up nothing for ending your political career. You had better get a lot personally for it, because once it is done, and you are out of office, they will forget you ever existed. Just ask Mike Briggs, Brian Setencich, Anthony Pescetti, Dave Kelley, Paul Horcher, and Dick Dickerson. They gave the Democrats what they wanted, and they are now enjoying their time in the private sector. You will too.

What's significant here is how Haynes uses this kernel of truth to promote a bigger lie - that Democrats have "given up nothing" in a grand bargain to save the state. This is simply not true. For years and years they have made painful cuts to key programs, have expedited projects by waiving environmental restrictions, and have gone at least halfway on the budget. In Haynes' conception of the Iron Law, Democrats have to be willing to do something that would lose them their seats in office in order to get cooperation. He is asking, in essence, for a suicide pact. The fact that Democrats control the majority and one would think are actually entitled to enact their policies, and subsequently get called to account on the effects of those policies periodicially by the voters, doesn't enter much into Haynes' thinking. He alludes to it here:

Getting a political majority does entitle groups and people to certain policy gains. That is what getting power is all about. Winners get to enact their policy initiatives. They don't get to whine however when the minority has the opportunity to advance their policy initiatives, and the majority has to give up something to get what they want.

Of course, the majority HAS given up plenty to get what they want. But what Haynes calls "whining" is simply pointing out that a democracy with majority rule in elections might want to take the same course in governing, lest a tyranny of the minority take hold and create a hostage situation. I assume he wouldn't see it the same way.

There are only a couple ways to break this. One is to reform the rules that gridlock the state so that every member can continue to vote their conscience without punishing the citizens in the process. The other is to make those members of the Yacht Party institution MORE afraid of their general election than their primary election. We have made small strides toward a 2/3 majority, but essentially have failed in the past two cycles, which were promising for Democrats nationally. Only by growing the party and breaking the working conservative majority in the legislature will the rule of the Iron Law become irrelevant.

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