Steve Glazer is a former political consultant who served as mayor of Orinda before being elected to the state Senate in a 2015 special election.
Glazer is a Democrat who usually votes with others in the party’s overwhelming Senate majority. However, Glazer has a rare maverick streak, not unlike that of his one-time boss, former Gov. Jerry Brown.
Glazer has most often displayed that tendency in clashes with labor unions, his party’s most important ally, but it extends to other aspects of governance.
This month, just as the Legislature began its month-long summer recess, the Los Angeles Times published an op-ed by Glazer highlighting his party’s inability to effectively use its unfettered political power on California’s knottiest issues.
Glazer cited the state’s newly enacted, $310 billion state budget, describing it as “a reflection of our values, dedicating spending to getting homeless people off the street, supporting schools, keeping public transit afloat and treating mental illness,” but adding, “as many Californians know, we’ve already spent billions of dollars on the same problems—with very little to show for it.
“Our failures are evidence that good intentions and lots of money are not enough to fix what ails the Golden State,” Glazer continued. “To make our progressive beliefs mean anything, the Legislature must ensure that the money we spend is actually improving the lives of the people we say we are committed to helping.”
Glazer cites the state’s chronic housing shortage and homelessness levels, mental health programs and California’s embarrassingly low public school achievement as examples of issues that have festered for years without noticeable progress.
“Democrats know that hundreds of our schools are failing and far too many kids are unable to read, write or do math at grade level,” Glazer declared. “And we know that those struggling students are disproportionately low-income children of color. But that issue gets almost no attention from Democrats in the Capitol, who have made no recent efforts to discover why schools are falling short and what can be done to improve them.”
Glazer’s overall theme is something that’s rarely mentioned in California political circles: competence, or the lack thereof. The Democrats who control virtually every lever of political power in California tend to measure achievement by how much money they spend on a particular problems, rather than outcomes.
That’s very evident in California’s highest-in-the-nation level of homelessness. The state has spent upwards of $20 billion on programs meant to reduce the amount of unhoused Californians, but the numbers continue to climb as Gov. Gavin Newsom and local government officials squabble incessantly over who should be accountable.
The implosion of the Employment Development Department that allowed fraudsters to pocket tens of billions of dollars in unemployment insurance payments, while legitimate claims were delayed, is another stark example. So is the state’s chronic inability to design and implement technology.
Recently, CalMatters reported that California has spent $600 million on programs meant to prevent former prisoners from committing new crimes after release but has not tracked whether they have succeeded.
“The state does not collect data on whether parolees who participate in the program have found jobs or whether they are returned to prison for another crime,” reporter Byrhonda Lyons wrote after spending a year investigating the issue. “What state data does show is that only 40% of participants completed at least one of the services they were offered.”
As shocking as that lapse sounds, we shouldn’t be surprised because, as Glazer points out, the state’s political leadership—those in his own party—are prone to spending money on a problem without accountability that ensures results.
Dan Walters wrote this column for CalMatters.org.