There are two things that should come as no surprise to anyone reading this blog. First, Californians support high speed rail. Second, Ralph Vartabedian does not.
Vartabedian has a rather whiny article up at the LA Times today complaining that high speed rail is not a factor in this fall’s statewide election:
Neither Brown nor his Republican opponent, Neel Kashkari, has delved publicly into the details of high-speed rail, including the complex construction plan, looming technical challenges or possible funding shortfalls.
That lack of substantial dialogue reflects a broader inattention that some political analysts and engineering experts warn could have long-term consequences.
This is a remarkable article, basically Vartabedian complaining that nobody agrees with him that HSR is a ticking time bomb and then going out and finding a failed candidate for office this year, Dan Schnur, to agree with him.
Vartabedian has spent years trying to undermine the California HSR project, and here in 2014 it’s clear that his efforts have been a spectacular failure. Californians simply don’t agree with him that HSR is a bad idea. And as a result, most of their political leaders see no point in bashing a popular project.
The most recent poll to examine the HSR issue, PPIC’s March 2014 poll, found a majority of Californians support high speed rail. A few months later, the state legislature agreed to Governor Jerry Brown’s request to devote a sizable portion of cap-and-trade revenues to HSR. That looks to have settled matters in Sacramento, as HSR is no longer a theoretical project but an actual thing the state is building.
Of course, there are those who have tried to make HSR an issue in this year’s election. Republican candidate for governor Neel Kashkari has made attacking HSR part of his campaign, with his ads attacking the “crazy train” and showing him literally smashing a toy train. (Another Kashkari ad showed a kid drowning – what is it with Kashkari putting kids and their toys in danger?) But Kashkari is expected to lose the governor’s race by as much as 20 points. Clearly his attacks on HSR aren’t helping his cause.
In fact, the campaign has seen some candidates embrace HSR when they hadn’t done so before. Consider the case of Betty Yee. I’ve known and respected her since my days working in Monterey County politics, when she was a member of the State Board of Equalization. In the past, Yee has been critical of HSR. But she’s now running for Controller against Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, who is a notable Republican supporter of HSR.
If HSR were politically toxic at the polls, you’d have expected Yee to double down on any criticisms of HSR. Instead, she put out a statement last Friday embracing HSR:
Voters statewide approved Proposition 1A in November 2008, the Safe, Reliable High-Speed Passenger Train Bond Act for the 21st Century. The Act authorizes the issuance of $9.95 billion of general obligation bonds for the project.
While supportive of the concept, I had opposed the project because of its governance and financing challenges. However, the direction of cap-and-trade funds to the project by Governor Brown has the great potential of attracting other sources of financing to move the project forward. Widening freeways and increasing air traffic are not sustainable responses from environmental and cost perspectives to the increased need to move people in this state.
I now support the high-speed rail project, and it should proceed as long as the financing meets all legal requirements, the project complies with all environmental laws, and local communities’ concerns are fully aired so that the project respects higher region and local priorities such as the dire water supply concerns affecting communities, families, and farmers in the San Joaquin Valley.
Welcome to the team, Betty Yee! Glad to have you on board.
It’s possible that Democrats may add to, maintain, or lose their supermajority in Sacramento. But that is largely dependent on Democratic turnout, which is anemic across the country this year. If Democrats did lose that supermajority, it’d be only by a seat or two, and HSR is not a factor in those races, most of which are in Southern California.
One sleeper race that could break for Democrats is the race for Congress in California’s 21st Congressional district. Democrat Amanda Renteria is making it a close race against David Valadao, who has been outspoken in his opposition to HSR. Renteria is more nuanced, but doesn’t outright oppose HSR, and thinks it would be a huge mistake for the Valley to turn its back on all those jobs.
So Vartabedian’s complaint isn’t with the candidates, but with the reality that Californians support HSR. His efforts to turn the public and the state government against the project have been a colossal failure.
Of course, the situation is different in Congress, where Bakersfield’s Kevin McCarthy continues to fight against HSR. He may soon have a Republican majority in the Senate to join him in his quixotic war against jobs for the Valley. But the Republican Congress’s opposition to HSR is not the death knell for California HSR that it once seemed. If California continues to support HSR, and if the Congress continues to oppose it, that will simply add momentum to the state’s efforts to chart its own course in building HSR. After all, the federal government has been AWOL on the drought and on climate change, and California is going its own way on those matters as well.
At some point you’d expect Vartabedian to accept reality and reconcile himself to the fact that HSR is getting built in part because Californians like it….