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Guest Letter

Diane Dixon

With legislature away, governor plays dictator

Diane Dixon

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Courtesy of Diane Dixon

Diane Dixon

The American and French Revolutions were the final blows against the ancient idea that we should all be governed by a king, unaccountable and unchecked by a legislature or a court.

Yet, the COVID-19 pandemic has given rise to a new class of monarch, state governors who govern by diktat. In California we have a governor who rules virtually single-handedly and whose whims and impulses instantly become policy, with no democratic process of review and debate to help shape the outcome.

Over the last several months, Gov. Gavin Newsom has changed over 200 laws by decree, ruling the state as a one-man show, with a moribund Legislature sitting idly on the sidelines. Newsom’s autocratic tendencies predate the pandemic, however, and were on display from the beginning of his term. He began bypassing the people and the Legislature and issuing “executive orders” on literally his first day in office.

Then, barely two months into his term, he completely ignored decades of debate and legislation – and the expressed will of the voters in several initiatives over the years – and commuted the death sentences of hundreds of the worst criminals imaginable. Why? He said it himself: Because he wanted to. 

Later last year, he unilaterally redirected almost a half-billion dollars in voter-approved gas tax funds from long overdue road improvements to some pet rail projects that will take a mere handful of cars off the roads – if they are ever completed. Because he wanted to.

This year the governor assumed emergency powers in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. And the autocratic dictates started coming thick and fast, some necessary but many not.

Three weeks ago, the governor blew a gasket over misleading telephoto photographs in the media that made it appear beachgoers in Orange County were shoulder-to-shoulder for miles on end. In reality, as aerial shots with no distortion clearly showed, people were in small family groups, quite far apart. As a further aggravation, Orange County was also in the news that week as a center of opposition to Newsom’s more draconian measures. So, having no policy reason but faced with opposition and “bad optics,” Newsom ordered the beaches 

closed – not statewide, but just in Orange County, to make his point.

Because he wanted to, and for no other apparent reason.

I think the governor fancies himself something of an “enlightened despot,” ruling benevolently from on high. Seen from the ground, however, it looks anything but enlightened, with decisions based on a whim or personal pique while the legitimate concerns of the people are completely ignored.

Without a Legislature willing to stand up to this Governor, he will likely use his unchecked “power” during the next crisis and the next and so on. That is why I’m running to represent the 74th Assembly District: because I believe in checks and balances, two-party democracy, being responsive to the people, fiscal responsibility, and forging effective long-term solutions to our problems through debate and democratic processes.

California’s unemployment rate is near 30 percent. By some estimates a third of businesses that have been forced to shut down will never open their doors again. We face massive budget deficits that will only be solved by real reform of how Sacramento conducts its business.

Truly, this is not a partisan issue. In fact, I have not mentioned anyone’s party affiliation here. Rather, this issue is one that is fundamental to democracy and should concern every citizen. I welcome the help of all who love our democracy and our state. Together we can restore balance, responsiveness and responsibility to California’s government.

Diane Dixon is a council member and two-time mayor of Newport Beach. She is a candidate in the 74th Assembly District, which includes Newport Beach, Costa Mesa, Laguna Beach and the southern halves of Irvine and Huntington Beach.