In the midst of our worst fiscal crisis in a generation or two, Californians are about to be confronted with another high cost television waged gubernatorial campaign. With two billionaires lined up on the Republican side, and well connected Democratic competitors, the spending, even in the midst of a Depression, will be unprecedented.
Both the terms and the present competitors for the job render unlikely any chance that an honest debate about restoring the effectiveness of California government will take place. However we must and can avoid a campaign dominated by hot button fear issues that have proven effective in good times and bad to lead Californian's to make serious mistakes at the ballot box (Juvenile Crime, 3-Strikes, Jessica's Law, etc). We cannot afford to wake up the morning after the next election, having chosen the candidate most capable of demonizing some insignificant but visually compelling threat to public safety.
This is not an issue of left versus right (as Gray Davis should be enough to remind us), but instead the alliance between almost all the mainstream politicians, the media, and key crime fear constituents (prosecutors, organized crime victims, CCPOA) that matters most in determining whether we end up with another 1994 (when in the midst of a dismal economic decline, the election between Pete Wilson and Kathleen Brown was dominated by phantoms of crime). Keep your eye on the media's ability to keep these hot button issues in the headlines (read Jaxon Van Deberken's latest effort to keep one of the newest hottest hybrids out there, the illegal immigrant, combined with potentially violent juvenile criminal, going in today's SFChron). Perhaps we need to call out this kind of reaction formation early, before it can shape the entire bandwidth of the debate.