Waking a Sleeping Giant

As portrayed in the 1970s movie about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor Tora Tora Tora Admiral Yamamoto states after the attack "I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve." Turns out there is little historical evidence suggesting that the Admiral said any such thing. However the line is illustrative of a self-evident truth: You don’t kick a rabid dog; you don’t poke a tiger with a stick; and you don’t walk into a biker bar and start insulting Harleys.

In February a political "deal" was reached regarding the state budget. Among the interests involved in the negotiations were the usual suspects: the Governor (no longer even pretending to advance limited government free market policies) powerful labor interests and their democrat puppets in the Legislature and a handful of Republicans who pressured by business interests finally acquiesced to a deal that – more or less – left businesses alone while shafting working Californians.

Looks like everyone was at the table in these negotiations except taxpayers. After all as recently pointed out by noted economist Ben Zycher commenting on the phony spending cap the special interests are able to focus their political resources while the diffuse interests of taxpayers are far more difficult to marshal – even though in the abstract taxpayers are a powerful force.

Does any of this sound familiar? In the 1970s the politicians – with the same special interests controlling Sacramento – refused to believe that taxpayers were serious about rising property taxes. Sure a couple of yahoos named Jarvis and Gann put a strong tax measure on the ballot Proposition 13 but it went way too far and the voters would surely reject it wouldn’t they?

But these interests underestimated badly the anger of the people. By the time the insiders comprehended the size of the tsunami coming at them it was too late. Not even an alternative property tax initiative that was viewed as too little too late could save them. Prop 13 passed by over 66% .

Fast forward to Saturday. Radio talk show hosts John Kobylt and Ken Chiampou held a taxpayer rally in Fullerton to protest the budget "deal" that left California the most heavily taxed state in America. In the couple of weeks leading up to the rally they wondered aloud on the air whether anyone would show up. Are Californians now like docile sheep begrudgingly accepting all the idiocy raining down from Sacramento?

With luck the rally would be a success and at least a few hundred citizen/voters would show up to fill the Slidebar Cafí©. Well according to local officials the crowd that showed up numbered at least eight THOUSAND. And they weren’t very quiet either. The rally was raucous and wild with chants of "heads on a stick" reverberating in the air.

The rally in Fullerton may be a turning point in the new California Tax Revolt. Citizens are angry. They are angry at the abject lack of rational fiscal management of the Golden State; they are angry that labor unions are wholly protected with their excessive pay and bullet proof pensions; they are angry at corporate California which is quick to protect its own interests ($500 million tax break for Hollywood) while throwing the working class under the bus.

The only question that our elected officials must now ask themselves is whether the level of anger among ordinary citizens will coalesce into a significant political force. Our bet is that like 1978 they will make a major miscalculation and will pay the political price for doing so.

Jon Coupal is President of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest taxpayer organization — which is dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and promoting taxpayers’ rights.