Tom Fulks

Are Democrats their own worst enemy?

Tom Fulks
Tom Fulks

Democrats had better snap to attention soon or they’ll be wondering how they blew another critical election everyone expected them to win, this time in 2018.

Primary election voting by mail begins here in just 11 months. Yet the Democratic National Committee has offered no coherent message, no compelling case to capitalize on mounting voter disapproval of Republicans, their stone-hearted health care bill and their traitorous enabling of Donald Trump’s inexplicable Russia coddling.

All 14 California Republicans in Congress voted for their party’s disastrous “Trumpcare” bill. Twelve of them oppose having an independent prosecutor investigate Trump’s Russia intrigues.

These guys apparently believe treason and the undoing of our constitutional checks and balances are acceptable byproducts of finally achieving their goal of slashing taxes for the rich while stripping millions of Americans of their health insurance.

Surely, several of them can be defeated next year. Yet here we are, staring at a mid-term primary, and what do national Democrats say?

“Trump bad. Send money.”

Ask Hillary Clinton how well that worked.

I receive dozens of hair-on-fire fundraising emails weekly from national Democrats decrying Trump (Russians in the Oval Office!) and see-no-evil Republican abettors. Not one email has laid out a logical strategy to do anything about it.

Democrats need a persuasive argument against Republicans in Congress, something like: “Democrats Impeach — Republicans Comply,” or “Republicans Killed Your Health Insurance.”

Pigheadedness isn’t limited to the national scene. Democrats in the California Legislature seem determined to lose their bicameral supermajorities in 2018, maybe even the governor’s mansion.

They recently passed a $52 billion hike in fuel taxes and vehicle fees — the first increase in 23 years — to address some $59 billion in deferred maintenance on state highways and $79 billion on local roads. Good government requires these problems be fixed. To their credit, some Democratic legislators voted for the tax hike knowing they’d put their political careers on the line in 2018.

Gov. Jerry Brown — termed out in 2018 — admitted no California governor running for president in 2020 wants a giant tax increase in tow. So it’s now or never for fixing the state’s crumbling infrastructure, like the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge in Big Sur.

To seal the deal, Brown promised $900 million in road projects for certain lawmakers’ districts in exchange for votes. In 2003, this kind of DMV-fee sausage making, plus huge spikes in electric bills due to deregulation, got then-Gov. Gray Davis recalled and Arnold Schwarzenegger into the governorship.

But selling voters on such a big ticket requires skill: 12 cents per gallon on gasoline; 20 cents on diesel; increased registration fees from $25 to $175 a year, depending on your vehicle’s market value. These increases are phased in over some years, but you’d never know it from the Democrats.

Beyond tax hikes, California Democrats risk alienating moderate voters with frivolous, inane legislation. For example, Assembly Bill “501” makes denim the official state fabric. Assembly Bill 22 ends a ban on communists employed by state government.

Democrats in Sacramento seem to be going out of their way to offend moderate voters. They may as well adopt bills making Satan the official state deity, skunks the state pet, foie gras the state appetizer.

The commie bill has lit up social media, giving Republicans — in their attempt at relevance in a state that hasn’t a single statewide Republican officeholder — a potent attack on Democratic foolishness.

Avoidable controversies erode moderate political support for generationally significant but politically risky legislation — such as reauthorizing the carbon cap-and-trade program and passing a daring single-payer health insurance bill for all Californians — requiring supermajority votes. Without support from the political middle, important legislation like this will fail.

Pointlessly alienating moderates fritters away huge gains progressive Democrats are making locally: registering new voters, organizing precincts, recruiting candidates, energizing swaths of voters heretofore uninvolved but now highly motivated by Trump’s impeachable behavior and Republican complicity.

As an elected Democrat toiling in the janitor’s closet of local party politics, I worry my party courts failure in 2018 at a time when we should be surging. Huge tax hikes, gratuitous controversy, oblivious national party leaders — all signal an electoral storm over the horizon.

Democrats can take the U.S. House, Senate or maybe both. Likewise, they can hold their supermajorities in the Legislature and consolidate California’s march to global eminence in climate science, health care, justice, clean energy and advanced technology.

But unless they wake up, Democratic Party leaders — as is their wont — will snatch defeat from the jaws of a Republican Party primed for a blowout in 2018.

Liberal columnist Tom Fulks serves on the San Luis Obispo County Democratic Central Committee. His column runs every other Sunday, in rotation with conservative columnist Andrea Seastrand.