The years-long campaign against Californians by the state of Texas, its officials and industries has done anything but abate since the Lone Star State was revealed as having a worse budget crisis than California's, in addition to poverty and school dropout rates that far eclipse ours.
In fact, that campaign – some might call it out-and-out economic warfare – entered one of its most ignominious chapters early this spring, led by Republican Gov. Rick Perry, who has sought largely to resolve his own state's financial problems at the expense of politically powerless schoolchildren too young to vote against him.
Given what he and his fellow Texans have done, Perry would be wise not to expect much support from anyone in California, Republican or Democrat, in the presidential campaign he's now "looking at."
Here's the latest of Perry's anti-California activities, coming in the wake of the California Assembly's strongly bipartisan 60-7 vote to revoke the city charter of the highly industrial Los Angeles suburb of Vernon. That's a 96-person town where, over the last few years, a former mayor was convicted of voter fraud, the ex-city administrator was charged with 18 counts of misappropriation of public funds for personal use and some city officials paid themselves yearly salaries of $1 million or more, while others drew salaries so high that one who eventually quit has milked the California Public Employees Retirement System for an annual pension of $500,000 – a figure based mostly on his last salary.
The city itself owns all but four of the housing units in town, while most voters are relatives of city officials or employees of local companies, and there were no contested elections from the mid-1980s until very recently – largely because city government controlled who lived in its housing and thus who could vote.
One way to clean up this cesspool would be to revoke the city charter, making Vernon just another part of Los Angeles County. But doing that, contend owners of many of the 1,800 warehouses, factories and other businesses in the town (employing 55,000 workers), would mean higher utility and water rates, higher taxes and increased insurance rates (now held down because of ultra-fast response times from local police and fire departments).
To ensure that businesses don't encounter those problems, California Assembly Speaker John Perez, a Democrat representing a nearby district, promised to amend the charter revocation bill to preserve Vernon's municipal utility and business-friendly zoning. No one wants any reductions in the town's employment and no one outside Texas wants its businesses to leave either the town or California. They paid about $4.5 billion in wages last year, and accounted for approximately $1 billion in taxable sales.
Into this mess this spring stepped Perry, sending emails to dozens of Vernon businesses in an attempt to coax them into moving to Texas. So far, none has bitten, but business owners and the labor unions allied with them in trying to keep Vernon a city are using the Perry approaches in trying to stave off charter revocation.
"There's no question there were some overpaid people in the city administration, who are now gone," Bill Hughes, owner of King Meat Co., told a reporter. "But why punish businesses with 50-some thousand employees because of a couple of bad apples."
Those businesses, of course, never objected to the "bad apples" until they were exposed by the local district attorney and a local newspaper. Money talks.
What Perry is doing, thus, is interfering in a fight against government corruption. Republican Assemblyman Cameron Smyth of Santa Clarita, one co-sponsor of the charter-revocation bill, described the move this way, "We have the opportunity to make a statement that corruption will not be tolerated."
Perry's attempt to exploit Vernon's documented corruption is only the latest chapter in the Texas war on California. Over the last 11 years, that campaign has seen Texas companies inflict an energy crisis and rolling blackouts on this state via illegal electricity supply and price manipulation. Texas-based oil companies led by Valero and Tesoro financed the losing 2010 Proposition 23, which sought to get rid of this state's landmark anti-global warming law so they wouldn't have to modernize their refineries here. Two years earlier, Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens tried to milk Californians for $5 billion in bond money via Proposition 10, which would have fed most of that money to a Pickens-owned firm. And the Consumer Watchdog advocacy group has charged Valero, Tesoro and other Texas-based oil companies with gouging California drivers by keeping gasoline supplies artificially low during periods of high demand.
No other state has seen its major companies and officials make so many efforts to cheat or take advantage of citizens of another state. No other state has financed studies about how to take businesses away from California – and only California. Just Texas.
So Perry's latest antics are no surprise. Which doesn't make them any less shameful, offensive and disgusting.
Thomas Elias writes about California politics. His column appears in Opinion and online at TheCalifornian.com on Tuesdays. Contact him online at http://www.californiafocus.net.