It is a measure of the man’s success that one rarely hears mention anymore that Governor Ronald Reagan made it through the looking glass in one scant year. From Grade B make-believe in Hollywood he has leapt into a sturdy place in the rugged real world of presidential politics. Status, which dedicated politicians labor all their lives to achieve — and few do — has fallen easily, and gracefully, upon Reagan, and he wears it with style. To his stage aplomb he has added the confident touch of a professional politician, the sure footing required of a man whose base is the country’s most populous (20 million people) state.
The first amateur ever to become governor of California, Reagan would have done well if he had done no more than put together a creditable and functioning state administration. He has done that. He promised to make “rigid economy” his mark, to “cut, trim, and squeeze” state spending, to “turn around” the course of government. And for better or worse, he did.
Reagan after taxes
Reagan is not so quick to mention that last year he also passed the largest budget this or any other state ever ran ($5,093,306,586), and imposed the largest tax increase this or any other state ever contrived, which toted up to just about a billion dollars. Yet miraculously, he has maintained the image of the masterful economizer, and it is economy about which he talks. A large proportion of California will discover in April that their income taxes have nearly doubled. This may hurt Reagan a bit in California. Of course, raising taxes without ruining one’s chances with the voters is exactly the monkey wrench in Johnson’s works just now. By hollering economy, Reagan, the novice, may be able to do what the master politician has not been able to do.
Wherever Reagan’s fortunes stand after taxes, Don M. Muchmore, who directs Opinion Research of California (the state poll most heavily relied on by the Brown administration and now by Reagan’s), finds that his continuous acceptance as governor is thus far unmatched by anyone in the state’s history except Earl Warren. Reagan went into office with a million-vote majority, and 58 percent of the total. After seven months in office a sampling by Opinion Research showed him favored by 62 percent.
Yet Ronald Reagan has attacked the principle of free education, insulted government employees, evicted organized labor from posts in state government which their representatives have held for over eighty years, and installed in their places frankly employer-oriented businessmen. He has cut back everybody’s pet program, and taxed heavier than anyone else the middle-income group on which he bases his support. He vetoed increased pay for the blind, postponed new centers for the mentally retarded, made a $17.7 million cut in the state’s mental hospital budget, and ordered a $210 million slash in California’s Medicaid program. In other retrenchment maneuvers, he invites business, not government, to solve racial problems, opposes open housing for minorities, and patrols the state’s vast welfare program for evidence of fraud on which to base cutbacks. (He aims to shift the elderly off oldage pensions and back into the hands of their families; in general he wants to displace public welfare with private charity.)
Just now, when the greatest degree of confidence and trust is needed to offset all the retrenchment and permit visibility for some positive Reagan programs, internal uncertainties trouble the governor. His handling of the unfortunate episode involving homosexuality on his staff, by general agreement, damaged his claim to candor.
Withal, Ronald Reagan enjoys the most attractive pre-primary position of any GOP possibility. He presumes to be no more than his own state’s favorite-son candidate. Reagan’s little coterie of advisers admonish patience. Unlikely though it may seem, they are holding fire. Reagan’s name will be entered, one way or another, in all the critical primaries. What votes he wins will be worth many times their total in impact because they come unasked. It is all gain. How great a gain is still uncertain. But he cannot lose.
One element which makes these spring months easier for Reagan than for men who have driven a lifetime toward the presidential goal is his enviable relaxation about it all. From the modest Midwestern environment which fixed his scale of values Reagan absorbed a somewhat fatalistic faith in God and destiny. While functioning as governor, he manages to preserve the uninvolved style of an outsider. He is not goaded and whipped by ambition. It is rare to see a man run for the presidency of whom it can be said: no sweat.
Marshaled behind him is an unprecedentedly effective state Republican organization. True, it lacks majority registration among California voters, and it still hears rumbles of discontent from the “all or nothing” far-right wing. But its Eleventh Commandment, “Republicans shall speak ill of no other Republicans,” dampens dissent. It is cohesive, experienced, and dedicated. It has 86 votes at the Republican National Convention, second only to New York’s 92. It has a research arm, ample coffers, and a systematic precinct organization. It maintains two state headquarters with eighteen full-time workers. (Back in Earl Warren’s era the party didn’t even have a year-round office in which to hang a hat.) Its position in the legislature threatens the dominant Democrats (each party now has 20 Senate seats). This fall it means to net more gains.
Its unity is so binding that in the name of it, the state GOP leadership appears to have manipulated financial support away from right-wing Senate hopeful Max Rafferty, pushed incumbent progressive Republican Senator Thomas H. Kuchel reluctantly into his most conservative stance ever, and staved off what everyone expected to be a bloody party battle. Unity also means that no other Republican candidate can get a toehold in the state, as was conclusively proved when Lieutenant Governor Robert H. Finch, onetime Nixon advocate, jumped the gun on proposing Reagan as favorite son.
In sorry contrast, the shattered state Democratic Party is heading for one of the severest presidential primary battles of the year, with a contest between Senator Eugene J. McCarthy and Johnson loyalists almost certain. Meanwhile, California Democrats have been trying to warn Eastern colleagues of their informed view that Reagan, if nominated, will be the toughest, not the easiest, Republican to defeat. To be sure, former Governor Pat Brown said complacently in Washington last June that a contest between Reagan and President Johnson would present American voters with “the clearest picture of the choices they must make”; Reagan, he said, is the “best salesman of the donothing school of government.” The deposed Brown is, however, witness that voters can be cajoled by “donothing” politicians. Many Democrats who went through the humiliating defeat of 1966 in California fear that a Johnson-Reagan contest would suggest a number of parallels to Brown vs. Reagan.
It is hard to believe how far the once cheerful and spirited incumbents of Brown’s eight years have fallen. The Democrats in California owe campaign deficits in excess of $60,000. They can muster only a part-time staff to keep their headquarters open. So indifferent are Democratic voters that in Los Angeles alone 420,000 Democrats (or more than 20 percent of the party’s registration there) have been erased from the rolls for failure to vote in the past two years, and there is no machinery for a concerted drive to get them back. In contrast to the power of unified thinking in the Republican camp, the California Democracy has a surplus of feudal rivals, including Brown, Los Angeles Mayor Sam Yorty, former state Controller Alan Cranston, State Senate finance wizard George Miller, and legislative Speaker Jesse M. Unruh. Unruh is the party’s shrewdest leader. He has slimmed down from his ‘’Big Daddy” proportions both in size and in temperament, rendering himself a more agreeable figure. But he is hard-pressed to maintain his seat in the legislature and his leadership there as well, and he isn’t adding national problems to his agenda. Democratic National Committeeman Eugene Wyman confessed to being so distraught with the party malaise that he is thinking of asking the National Committee to send in an outsider “totally disassociated from all, so we can start fresh,” an incredible concession in a pivotal state.
Whatever Johnson’s name could offer toward suppressing the feuding will not be precisely determined: party regulars will be asking for votes in the June primary for delegates pledged to LBJ, but the ticket will be led by the lone statewide Democratic officeholder, Attorney General Thomas C. Lynch, a stalwart law-enforcement man but the world’s most low-keyed campaigner. Opposing him on the peace slate will be Senator McCarthy, whose name is popular in California. Even National Committeeman Wyman, who protests perhaps too much that Johnson can carry California, concedes the opposition is “formidable.”
The para-organizational Council of Democratic Clubs, which broke with Brown two years ago because of the vehemence of its antipathy toward the Vietnam War, is the core around which anti-Johnson and peace sentiment is coalescing, and CDC appears to be better organized and financed than the state party itself. With a base of 33,000 members and generous financing from anti-war contributors, a well-managed CDC-McCarthy effort could carry the state.
The intellectuals who sparked Brown’s administration are too old to demonstrate against Vietnam and too young to accept the GOP as a permanent fixture in California government. Some have formed a “Committee for California,” a sort of Ripon Society for Democrats, laying groundwork for some bright new Democratic day. They concern themselves with exploring California’s major growth problems.
Too poor to plan?
It is probably fortunate they do.
There is a clear need for bold and early planning to rescue California’s magnificent environment from pollution in the countryside and a complex of urban diseases. And for all the poor-mouthing by the Reagan administration, California is not too poor to plan and act; with not quite 10 percent of the U.S. population, the state enjoys 11 percent of the total national income, or about $69.1 billion in 1967. Four other states, led by New York, top California in per capita income, and New York alone pays higher per capita state and local taxes (California: $395.27; New York: $409.94). But it is fairer to measure tax burden in relation to earnings. In this context Californians pay $125.71 in total taxes for every $1000 earned, but residents in eight other states, including New York, pay more.
Many problems which beset America appear in California in aggravated form. The contrast between abundantly endowed California in its natural state and the effects of “progress” on those endowments is a firsthand experience with almost everyone. Destruction and pollution of natural resources are not problems people just read about. A receding shoreline leaves garbage in its wake. Familiar hillsides whose old oaks and tawny grasses recall the frontier West are carved overnight into bleak terraces, planted with look-alike housing. And the yellow scummy taint in the air, despite all the efforts at smog control, creeps more pervasively along the horizon. Yet one still senses in California a public concern about the quality of the environment in the cities, in the suburbs, and in the wilderness beyond. In the last four years some $4 million in federal and state funds have been consumed in a massive state planning effort, and the results were due to have been completed and published last year. Alas, not one word on the subject has come from Governor Reagan.
Reagan came into office crying that government was too big and had to be reduced; too intrusive into private lives, too presumptuous in social effort, and too expensive. He began with the expenses. His first day in office he froze all state employment, stopped orders for new equipment, new cars, new office space, and banned all trips out of state. The job freeze lowered state employment 2.5 percent in six months, and today state government jobs have shrunk by 2550, reversing a previous annual increase of about 3 percent. He ordered a 10 percent cut in all department budgets. In mitigation of his spender stance as author of the billion-dollar boost in taxes and of the biggest-ever budget, he likes to say that he cut the pace of state spending in half. This means that before his term the California budget was growing at a rate of 16 percent a year; he held it to 8 percent. Keeping it at that level will be his toughest task this year. You have to start somewhere: he saved $50,000 alone in typewriter ribbons; $2 million in the annual phone bill, $4 million by canceling a planned building when efficiency experts found 2000 clerks could fit into space originally scheduled for 1000.
“I don’t add good”
When Reagan confessed momentary confusion over some budget figures with the jocular admission “I don’t add good,” one critical newspaper cartoon footnoted: “But I sure can subtract.” It conveyed as much about his philosophy as about his arithmetic.
Of course, some of these economies were trivial. Reagan relishes telling audiences about how he used up old stocks of official stationery rather than ordering anew, which had all his administration’s secretaries x-ing out Pat Brown’s name and typing in his. But his detractors also like this tale of frugality: wasting all that time and effort seems such false economy in place of a two-penny printing bill. Equally diverting was the administration’s decision to stop the state justice department’s consumption of the lined yellow tablets which are, by some academic alchemy, an absolute necessity for the penciling of legal thought. Some attorneys proposed instead a supply of rulers and a new civil service category for someone to draw lines on plain paper.
Reagan strategists Thomas Reed and William Roberts talk confidently of the day when positive programs can be announced. Lieutenant Governor Finch hints at “exciting” new ideas to come. But Governor Reagan is still talking economy. Asked recently what positive gain he most wanted to achieve in his administration, the governor could only discuss his fiscal bind, and most pressing issues in California come back to money. For example, the dismissal of University of California President Clark Kerr was the mood piece for the opening of the Reagan era; it was intended to be a sort of sacrificial cleansing, and a step toward erasing campus discord. The latter it has not done. But now under Reagan, the growing university is hurting most severely in its finances.
End to largesse
Typically, Reagan attached some conservative riders to his educational economizing. He vowed to end “free” higher education and to impose a $250 annual tuition at U.C. and $180 at state colleges. At first he proposed this to get additional funds. Now he would put most of the money into scholarships for the poor. It is part of the government table turning he calls for: an end to largesse; make a man pay for what he gets. To those who can’t pay, give charity. By curious oversight, he ignores the benefit to taxpayers whose children attend one of the world’s great universities without tuition.
Reagan has run up against two implacable forces in Sacramento: the momentum of growth in California, and of complexity of government. He has not coped with either, and tolerance of his initial hatchet approach is diminishing. The last thirty years have brought a jumble of commissions, bureaus, and departments in Sacramento, and a shake-up was due. But what now astounds legislators of both parties and career government men is Reagan’s unwavering line that budget cuts alone can cure society’s ills.
Reagan’s aim is to remove government from as many functions as possible, ease its burden on the taxpayer, and leave problem-solving to the private sector. This is the essence of what he terms the “Creative Society.” Its range of creativity is suggested by projections that state engineering and architecture, even state janitorial service, can be contracted out to private business, and state printing of textbooks discontinued, to save money. Such activities were assigned to civil service in the first place, of course, as economy measures.
The “private sector” mystique
It is hard to say how much of this is Reagan’s own thought, how much he acquired from the business community, and how much he has been brain-trusted by Richard C. Cornuelle. Cornuelle, now a principal staff man with the National Association of Manufacturers, is a California conservative theorist whose book Reclaiming the American Dream argues that American initiative needs help from a reactivated “private sector.” He means not just the business community, but the multiple efforts Americans have evolved in countless private charitable activities. This is a source book for Reagan’s vague philosophy.
Cornuelle has several times briefed Reagan and his staff, and all of them now talk somewhat mystically of the “private sector.” The difficulty is that the theory lacks specifics. The initiative being displayed by the private sector in no way matches the invitation Reagan has extended. When Reagan lopped off dental care for thousands of children on welfare, no “private sector” leapt forward to provide the service.
But the strength of Reagan’s political appeal is the priority of concern he assigns the tax dollar. It suits the judgment of the taxpayer. Massive programs accommodating a changing economy to the poor or the minorities, upgrading education, gearing land-use plans twenty years ahead to forestall the land despoilers — such undertakings represent far too sophisticated an approach to command public enthusiasm. Reagan shares the bewilderment of the man in the street. He is a decent human being, and confronted with individual tragedy, responds with compassion. However, confronted by mass programs, he loses the sense that humanity is involved and sees only bureaucratic machinery.
When the McCone Commission investigated causes of the Watts riots in Los Angeles, the staff stumbled upon the fact that the same kind of hostility which Negroes directed toward the white establishment was shared by white citizens, only they focused their ire on the government. The McCone Commission staff was sufficiently persuaded that Los Angeles citizens hate and distrust government to consider preparing a series of maps to illustrate how overlapping jurisdictions and hopelessly confused lines of authority work to create discontent. To this fear, resentment, and disaffection the Reagan message is in tune.
“We should reassert our right to run our own affairs,” he often says. “Government is created for our convenience. You can restore the dream that gave birth to our nation. . . .” “Liberties are being taken away. . . . Agencies of government at every level are seeking to perform their services more and more with less and less attention to the right of people to know.”
The creative society
Reagan cites as evidence that his Creative Society is practical the efforts of H. C. (“Chad”) McClelland. The latter, a prominent Los Angeles businessman, managed to organize business leadership immediately after the Watts riots to find jobs for Watts residents. Supported by foundation grants, this campaign has reformed employment practices; some 18,000 jobs have been found in California for Negroes and Mexican-Americans through systematic business effort. But it was all formalized before Reagan took office. He did give it official backing, encouraged other communities to follow suit, and has used its organization as a clearinghouse for problems related to race. Lieutenant Governor Finch considers the employment drive a genuine success, and says that if California gets through another summer without riots, it will prove that this involvement of business in the ghetto has done the trick. Nirvana is probably not that near. The McClelland plan does indeed have some earnest men committed to opening doors for minorities. Last summer, however, Finch proposed further steps to augment job opportunities, inasmuch as the McClelland plan is deliberately slow and long-range rather than a crash program. Reagan squashed these supplementary ideas. He is leaving job finding exclusively to the businessmen.
Business to the rescue
Reagan’s “task force” has been an interesting contribution. In response to a special gubernatorial appeal, business leadership supported a ninemonth efficiency survey of California’s entire governmental structure. Private businesses donated a nucleus fund and manpower for the probe. Following the precedents of Ohio (which saved $40 million by similar management studies) and Washington State (which saved $10 million), California hired the consultant firm of Warren King & Associates of Chicago and dispatched 210 young businessmen to report on how well each state agency is functioning and to recommend improvements. Reports, department by department, are now appearing, and the net effect is certain to enhance state management practices.
However, the generosity of the men involved and the novelty of business advice to Sacramento need to be put into focus. Reagan has said of this program: “No government could possibly hire the manpower now working voluntarily in our state,” and he has been genuinely impressed by their sacrifice. It is true that businessmen responded like good soldiers, but little real sacrifice was involved: task-force members were paid full salaries by their firms plus needed expense money, and the total will be a corporation tax deduction. The task-force plan was not quite, as Governor Reagan suggested, one which no government can afford. The federal government will be asked to afford it — via the granting of tax deductions to the California task-force firms, as to the Ohio and Washington ones previously. “You wouldn’t expect business to bear the whole cost, would you?” asked survey director O. Kenneth Pryor.
With some naïveté Reagan speaks of this survey as though it were the first time California government ever turned to business for an idea. Granted it is a large program, but Pryor himself has led previous analyses of California management practices in earlier administrations. Hundreds of private citizens have given time without pay to study problems and propose solutions. California has had quite a lot of help from the “private sector”: tax study commissions, health study commissions, crime study commissions, and countless others. Naming a business advisory group is customarily a governor’s first step. Those appointed form a fairly select society, likely to be used over again, as was shown when Reagan invited a prominent banker, who had been an eight-year Brown adviser, to be his state finance director. (He didn’t take the post.) The business community was not that aloof from government in preReagan days. Brown, however, usually hired specific jobs to be done under competitive bid rather than on a volunteer basis.
To the brink
Men experienced with the state’s fiscal affairs fear that continued drastic economizing will put California far behind its needs. For example, when Governor Reagan targeted the state’s mental hospitals for a major cut of $17.7 million, he bumped into commitments dating back to Earl Warren’s era, which were designed to end the warehousing of patients and focus on their rehabilitation. In Governor Goodwin Knight’s term, the first local clinics were created through joint state and local funds to move care of the mentally disturbed nearer their homes. In Governor Brown’s term a further series of local clinics, diagnostic and treatment centers was initiated, aimed ultimately at emptying state hospitals. So rapidly did patients improve under intensified care and so well did local clinics work that despite receiving about 28,000 new patients annually, the hospitals showed a far higher ratio of staff to patient. To Reagan, it looked like a justified place to economize.
But in the context of this longrange state plan, his moves were startling to legislators. Staff cuts were proposed when the mental health director was out of town and without prior consultation with him. Reagan refused to meet with any champions of mental care until after the budget was signed. Asked in April what he would do if the legislature restored money to the hospitals, the governor said he would veto it.
They did, and he did. Speaker Unruh sighed: “Not only does this administration bring us to the brink of disaster; it creates a brink expressly for the purpose.”
The governor hardly bargained for the public protest, much of it emotional, some of it uninformed, but all of it indicative that Californians support their state’s program for improving mental care. More than 1000 people jammed the capitol for budget hearings on this issue, and it is still the most sensitive economy issue.
With Medicaid, Reagan has an even harder time. Since federal funds are involved, and since he continues to seek reductions in the program contrary to what Washington wants, his policy may risk the state’s whole share of the federal subsidy. Medicaid is the kind of program Reagan most dislikes. It is huge. It covers all welfare recipients. It has no cutoff point. It offers “mainstream” medical care to the poor which workingmen toil to provide for their own families. It is financed by taxes and is proffered as a “right,” not charity. This symbolizes for him an unjust deprivation for the taxpayer. A great many Americans agree with him.
The governor first limited California’s Medicaid program to $610 million (of which half was to be in federal funds) in the face of projections indicating it would run, unless curbed, $210 million more. Then came the cutbacks. The lawyers for a welfare client sued, charging the cuts were illegal, and the Supreme Court decided for plaintiff. What hurt Reagan most was not his reversal—it simply gave him fresh cause to inveigh against the courts (he has done it so much that one Republican officeholder printed up bumper stickers reading: “Support Your Local Judge”). What hurt him, once again, was his lack of credibility. Accountants found that the state wasn’t in such desperate straits for funds after all, and the legislature pushed the problem off for several months.
Science, automation, and the pace of world events are shortening the span in which governmental decisions must be made. Many practitioners in the art of government are deeply worried that America’s chief domestic problem may be getting local, state, and federal machinery to mesh efficiently and productively. Improvement in public service is a desperate need, but under Reagan, a genuine concern for improving public service seems to be in danger of working out as little more than a program of pinching pennies and arranging for government machinery to idle. — Mary Ellen Leary