Does A True CA Progressive Exist?

My Democratic Party is riven by disagreements over who truly qualifies as “Progressive.” I’m on a mission to find one. Wikipedia says Progressivism is “the support for or advocacy of improvement of society by reform.” Political commentator David Sirota says Progressives “focus on using government power to make large institutions play by a set of rules.” So informed, I took a look at California’s leaders.

Governor Jerry Brown, who when he was first governor in the 1970’s took the un-Progressive action of signing the Determinant Sentencing law that sent California’s prison population skyrocketing, took action after he regained office in 2011 to reduce that population. Brown also worked to undo other damaging 1970’s legislation that centralized power in Sacramento by signing legislation to send some dollars and powers to local governments. Both actions would seem to meet the definitions.

But also I found non-Progressive actions. In 2014 Brown linked arms with two huge institutions to suppress the rights of poor and minority LA public school students and in 2011, 2013 and 2015 delivered costly raises to another institution in the prison industry at the expense of social services, courts, parks, universities and taxpayers.

I also looked at former Attorney General Kamala Harris. She joined in suppressing the rights of those LA students, suppressed a reform that would’ve freed up billions of dollars for citizens, and took campaign contributions from large institutions that receive state spending. I haven’t yet found any actions by her as AG that would qualify as Progressive. Suggestions welcome.

My search will continue. The lessons so far: Each individual political action must be evaluated. Pay more attention to what elected officials do than to what they say.

Written by

Lecturer at Stanford University and president of Govern For California

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