Most readers will have heard of the mythical State of Jefferson, dreamed up by rural folk who wish they were represented in their state legislatures. It is a myth; a harmless fantasy.
More fantastic by far, though, is the giant State of California, which still exists on numerous maps and documents. A state that emerged from fiction, was founded on dreams of avarice, grew wealthy on fantasy, and has now slowly faded back into myth.
Consider, if you will, the amazing story of California:
When Hernan Cortez reached its shores in 1536, he believed he was in the Indies, and that he had found the legendary island paradise of California. This island was inhabited only by voluptuous dark-skinned Amazon warriors, ruled by the beautiful Queen Califia, and was rich in pearls and gold. They found some pearls, but did not find the gold.
The Isle of California lay shrouded in mist and adventurers’ tales until 1579, when Sir Francis Drake landed on its shores and claimed it for England. He stayed for five weeks repairing his ships, but did not find the gold.
After that, California dozed peacefully in the backwaters of history for more than two and a half centuries, while the Spanish slowly expanded northward and a few Americans found their way across the continent, settling at the confluence of the American and Buenaventura rivers.
In 1848, California suddenly burst onto the consciousness of the world. In short order, John Marshall discovered gold, the settlers overthrew the Spanish government and founded the Bear Republic, and Mexico ceded California to the United States in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. To this day, the State Flag of California declares it to be a Republic, represented by an extinct bear!
The following year, the Forty-Niners swarmed into the newborn state searching for gold. They found it in great quantity. To extract it, they washed the Sierras into the Buenaventura River, now called the Sacramento. Cities and towns sprang up, and pioneers pushed their way across the continent to settle this glorious new paradise. The Wild West was on; a few decades of craziness that still inflame the imagination of the world.
No sooner was the Wild West tamed than Hollywood began churning out films, turning the drunken cowboys and greedy cattle barons into legendary romantic heroes. Soon the celluloid dream machine had chewed its way through the bulk of fiction, myth and fantasy, rewriting and distorting history as it went. Southern California exploded into suburbs filled with the beautiful, the star-struck and the ambitious.
By 1966, the lines between reality and fantasy had become so thin that a Hollywood actor was elected governor. Who better to lead the state than a man who had already served in the Army, the Navy and the Secret Service, and been a football star, a baseball star, a radio announcer, a college professor, a mob boss and an assistant district attorney — and a cowboy, as well. At the same time, the children of World War II came of age, took LSD and metamorphosed into hippies, the bane of their parents. Disaffected youths from across the nation flooded into San Francisco with flowers in their hair.
At this point, to understand California’s slide back into oblivion, we must digress and make our way back through a few dry facts of legislative history.
In 1911, the Populist Movement established the initiative process in California, allowing the people to bypass the legislature and amend the state constitution directly. Other states were doing it, and it seemed like a good idea. In California, it led to legislation by whimsy. Over 500 amendments of all sorts were passed, turning the California Constitution into a bloated mass of confused verbiage.
All sorts of amendments were passed, some useful, some silly, and some confused. A few of those amendments, though, mixed together to become a lethal concoction.
In 1933, because they valued fiscal responsibility, the people passed an amendment requiring a two-thirds vote of the legislature to pass a budget. Because their hearts were good, they passed amendments guaranteeing funding for various social programs, helping groups ranging from veterans to special-education students, the aged and blind, railroad brakemen, etc. Because they hated taxes, they passed numerous amendments limiting taxation in various ways. In 1978, they added the last fatal ingredient into the mix, an amendment requiring a two-thirds vote to pass new taxes.
California began to have trouble balancing its budget. For a number of years, the governors’ magicians were able to make the budget appear balanced, but eventually the illusion could not be maintained, and the terrifying size of the monster became clear. What California needed was a hero.
Into the fray stepped a mighty man. A man who had been Mr. Universe and Mr. Olympia, a demigod like unto Hercules, his mentor. A man who had defeated the legions of Thulsa Doom almost single-handedly. A man who had then become a malevolent cyborg, beloved by all, and married the niece of a famous president.
An ordinary mortal might have rested on his laurels, but it was at this point that the true grandeur of his prowess showed itself. He transformed himself into a mythical creature, the Moderate Republican, and ran for Governor of California.
The people of the state said, “A hero is come to save us,” and they raised him on high and placed him on the throne of California.
When he saw the size of the beast that confronted him, he was not intimidated. “First,” he said, “we will need a huge bond act just to get through the year,” and he asked the People to pass this act. So that it would never again be necessary to put off disaster this way, he coupled the bond act with a new amendment, requiring a balanced budget. The People saw that the need was great, and they passed his acts.
The Governator realized that conquering such an enormous monster as the budget deficit would require an attack from all angles, and the mustering of all the forces of the realm. The various factions of the court would have to cease bickering long enough to defeat this menace. “In order to tame this budget,” he reasoned, “we must both cut services and raise taxes.”
“He’s a Moderate,” said the Republicans, “practically a Liberal. His heart bleeds for the poor.” So they hardened themselves against him and held the budget hostage.
“He’s a Republican,” said the Democrats. “They eat children and homeless people.” So they pretended to be willing to cut services, but in secret they plotted to retain their beloved programs.
“He’s just a big dummy,” said the People, and they turned away from him.
So it was that a budget could not be passed. The Republicans and Democrats folded their arms and refused to budge. Even Conan could not move them, and a stalemate cast a pall over the land. Funding dried up, and the merchants would no longer accept IOU’s. Nonprofit organizations folded their tents and drifted away into the night. Bonds were defaulted on, and even government employees could find no sustenance at the public trough. Croplands returned to desert and suburban lawns withered. The people of the state returned to the soil to eke a miserable living from the land, or just wandered hopelessly away. Bankers and lawyers returned to their old jobs as pirates and highwaymen.
Thus it came to be that the Isle of California passed from the modern world and drifted back into the mists of legend, to be ruled over for eternity by Queen Califia and her Amazon warriors.
James Montgomery calls himself a broken-down logger/garbageman who went back to school and got a law degree. His work is in senior services. His interests include hiking, fishing, computers, kayaking, hunting and writing.
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