Has a Great Pushback Begun in California? | Opinion

What Covid, Uber and Kobe Bryant Have Taught Us About California Politicians

Every once in a while a politician will, in a candid moment, say something that reveals they're more interested in making us live the kinds of lives they want us to live—whether it serves our needs or not—than in serving the public.

Take, for instance, California state senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, who incredibly compared Californians who objected to legislation that made it impossible for Uber drivers to operate as independent contractors with children having candy taken away: "It's kind of taking away the lollipop that they had: the ability to decide essentially when they worked."

I got to witness another example in person, at a memorable dinner featuring an L.A. mayoral candidate. When it was my turn to ask a question I said that while I adored public transportation in cities that are designed for it, Los Angeles wasn't one of them—and were she elected, as she pushed for funding of public transportation, could the candidate also step up construction of freeways to lessen the traffic we all have to sit through? To my amazement, she replied that she wouldn't, and that the situation was akin to how we adults must deal with children: "we have to lead people to the right choices."

I was amazed. But in that unscripted moment she showed very clearly how many of our our leaders think of those they're elected to serve: Drivers are like children who must be guided to public transportation, and her job, she said without saying, was to not alleviate traffic for people like me but make it so utterly miserable that we'd give up and spend hours on buses and trains for what should be 20 minutes on an open freeway.

For those who do not live in L.A., remember the tragic story of Kobe Bryant's death. He had taken to flying by helicopter for short distances because the city's interminable traffic made it simply unbearable to drive from his home in Orange County to various activities in Los Angeles.

And while there is clearly lots of blame to go around for Bryant's untimely death, from aircraft and pilots to fog and wind, I'll also include the politicians who failed at the most basic function of government: providing us with open roads to travel on.

Gavin Newsom wearing mask in Los Angeles
California Governor Gavin Newsom photographed wearing a mask in Los Angeles on June 3, 2020. Getty/Genaro Molina

It's just another, although by far the most serious, in a long series of indignities that we Californians have had to endure. Our politicians have forced supermarkets to charge ten cents per bag to its customers (temporarily rescinded due to COVID-19), regulated construction in a manner that drives up housing costs to many times the national average, raised the price of electricity to five times what's paid in other states, charged us to travel on roads constructed with taxpayer dollars and added unconscionably high taxes at the gas pump.

None of these measures hurt wealthy Californians, but they're a dagger to the heart of the working poor who may need reminders that their leaders are there to serve them and their families, not the other way around. It raises a question: how much does a politician have to hate his or her own citizens, especially low-income ones, to make their lives so miserable?

We ask a few basic things of our government—protect us from those who wish us harm, provide a safety net for those unable to care for themselves and allow us to travel freely from one location to another.

But our leaders' ideological fanaticism causes them to wring every last penny, even from the most vulnerable among us, and prevents them from completing simple tasks—like building roads that would have allowed our greatest sports hero to stay on the ground. This is a basic failure of government that every Californian should remember the next time our leaders beg for our votes.

COVID is doing its part to show us the true nature of those who govern us, and has exposed far too many politicians as hypocrites of the worst kind—casually passing laws and issuing edicts that they flout in private.

But there may be a pushback coming. Lost in the hubbub of Trump vs. Biden were some interesting results for Californians in the recent election. First, our famously progressive electorate rejected an attempt to raise property taxes on businesses. And then they took their "lollipops" back, approving a measure that would once again classify app-based drivers as independent contractors.

Elections are essentially job interviews, and the next time our leaders ask us to hire them, we should ask them variations of the question Ronald Reagan famously posed in a 1980 debate: Will we be better off four years from now? How do you plan to make my life easier? Are you going to make the life that I've chosen to lead better than it was four years ago? Will you make it easier for me to go about the tasks that I've chosen to do?

In California, the 2020 election may be the beginning not of a much-discussed Great Reset but a Great Pushback against our politicians who seem to go out of their way to make life more difficult. A new generation of Californians, grounded in the reality that they are the bosses and public servants are their employees, must remind their political leaders who's working for whom.

Mark Joseph is a filmmaker, author and senior columnist for Newsweek.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.