Whether they like it or hate it, conservatives must look to California

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The State of California is fun to mock, easy to condemn and, particularly for many conservatives and libertarians, simple to write off. A little perspective from outside the state is an excellent reminder of just how far off it has been written.

Last week, on a flight to Arkansas from Los Angeles, I was seated next to a young woman with a southern-fried accent as thick as the region’s famously stifling midsummer humidity. She was pleasant to chat with. However, her regional charm faltered when I asked her what she thought of her time in the Golden State.

Rolling her eyes and assuming a sober expression, she quickly ran through this list: “It’s too expensive, needlessly thirsty, often broke and always preachy.”  

Her critical evaluation of California, amusing at the time for the intensity of its delivery, neatly summarized the case against the prevailing statist governing philosophy in Sacramento. Sadly, she was correct.

The high cost of living; the increasingly desperate water situation; the state’s mercurial budget; and its ever-present sense of a social mission are all products of that portion of the California electorate that pines to impose fairness and give order to the world, from the top down.

Unsurprisingly, no conservative red-stater and certainly no conservative southerner, wants any part of the California experiment. In fact, there is always glee when California’s shortcomings and problems make news. And yet, California should not be abandoned by conservatives from other parts of the country.

While the state is rife with the fringy left, more conservatives live in California than in any other state. While that’s a largely pointless statistic from a local political perspective, it underscores the larger idea that the national voice of conservatism is incomplete without California conservatives.

That voice will be significant because, though California conservatives long have been politically marginalized within their own state, they are better-positioned than any other subset of the movement to develop a policy-driven vision for a sustainable national right-wing coalition. For example, how better to deal with national issues regarding water diversion, high-speed rail and carbon taxes than by seeking the counsel of California conservatives?

What’s more, California is coping with an increasingly strained infrastructure brought about by years of political shifting of dedicated funds and unmanageable obligations to public employees with outsized political clout. This fate awaits the rest of the nation, and given its unfortunate precociousness, California may be where conservatives will write their policy playbook for the next 20 years.

In short, while California conservatives are outnumbered, don’t think that they are naïve or unproductive.

Toward the end of my flight, I asked the woman if she would ever willingly come back to California.

Of course,” she said. “I live in San Jose.”

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