Ours Is Bigger Than Yours. Our Mandate, That Is.
Right-wing columnist Steven Greenhut has what he thinks is a dramatic scoop: high speed rail backers are downplaying our mandate – one that he believes has vanished:
Meanwhile, a major poll last year has shown a majority of California voters now opposed to the project — and stronger majorities that favor subjecting the rail system to another public vote. Now rail supporters have shifted their argument. They say that the project is so important that the public’s view is not what really matters….
The Legislature has decided not to let the state’s voters decide, given that it probably won’t like their new decision.
In other words, Greenhut thinks we’re afraid of an electorate that doesn’t support HSR any more.
There’s just one problem: the public is still with us. Both the HSR project and the politicians who support it remain popular with California voters. That’s more than we can say about HSR’s critics.
A March 2014 poll by the Public Policy Institute of California found a majority of Californians backed the HSR project:
Today, when read a description of the system and its $68 billion price tag, 53 percent favor it and 42 percent oppose it. Majorities in the San Francisco Bay Area (63%), Central Valley (57%), Orange/San Diego (54%), and Los Angeles (52%) are in favor. Inland Empire residents are divided (45% favor, 46% oppose). When opponents of high-speed rail are asked how they would feel if the cost were lower, support rises (69% adults, 60% likely voters). Asked about high-speed rail’s importance, 35 percent of adults and 29 percent of likely voters say it is very important to the future quality of life and state’s economic vitality.
In November 2012, despite efforts by Republicans to use HSR to attack Democrats in swing districts across California, those Democrats won a 2/3 supermajority in the state legislature. And recent opinion polling shows Governor Jerry Brown, a longtime backer of HSR, will cruise to re-election this fall.
So where are Greenhut’s conservatives? They’ve been totally shut out of power in the Golden State. They are reduced to less than a third of the seats in the Legislature. They have no hope of winning the governor’s office anytime before 2022 at the soonest. (Get used to the words “Governor Kamala Harris.”) The voters of California have given the right a mandate: stay the hell away from our government.
But what about Greenhut’s point regarding a new vote on HSR? I have been consistent that a new vote is fine but only if it’s to move things forward, by offering additional funding for HSR. It would be smart for it to be part of a broader passenger rail package that includes funds for Amtrak California routes, commuter lines such as Caltrain and Metrolink, and local rail expansion such as new BART and Metro Rail lines.
Put a package like that together and I’m more than happy to see that go to the ballot. But there’s no point in a revote on Prop 1A since we won that battle many times over. Californians want high speed rail built. So let’s do it.