The Economist ran a special report last week about the dysfunctional mess that is California’s finances. Along with providing their outsider’s perspective on the out of whack initiative process and legislative supermajority rules that make the Senate filibuster look sane, the Economist considered, with gentle British mockery, the multitude of elected state officials. Californians vote for nine statewide offices, including such politically explosive positions as Insurance Commissioner and the Board of Equalization. With so many elected officials looking to ensure their own reelection, California policy is pulled in a dozen different directions and voters have no idea whom to hold accountable.
This problem isn’t restricted to California, and it isn’t even peculiar to state government. It’s the byproduct of a different era of machine politicians and industry-controlled elections, when progressive reformers sought a way to return power to the people. Today, though, there are just too many offices for non-obsessives to track. Try to name every official you could have voted for in the last 4 years. You probably thought of at least the President and your governor, mayor, senator(s) and congressperson. What about the representative to your state’s lower house? (That’s a trick question for the Nebraskans among you!) Lieutenant Governor? State Comptroller? County Legislator?