A few weeks ago, my oldest child graduated from high school and is preparing for her college journey this fall. Obviously, it fills my heart with a “gumbo” of all sorts of emotions – excitement, sadness, pride, anticipation, and more. Make no mistake – I couldn’t be more thrilled as she begins the next amazing chapter of her life. But as I stood on her high school football field in the wake of the literal pomp and circumstance, I couldn’t help but think about the field of life that she, her younger brother and all future generations will stand on and walk through in the years to come. Will they be afforded every golden opportunity to succeed in the Golden State and beyond?

This also happens to be the season in the State Capitol in which bills must move from their house of origin to the next legislative house, so (at the risk of overindulging in imagery), as my daughter also prepares to move out of our house and into her college residence all too soon, I also can’t help but hope and pray that our policymakers will pave – and not block – the way for the success and opportunity of our current and future generations.

Much of this comes down to what sort of opportunities our children will have to find a job, keep a job and even someday maybe even create something they might be able to call their own.

Sadly, in the Golden State, many of our leaders have a long way to go to prove that’s the direction they’re headed in.  But it’s an election year, so with the primary behind us and November just a few months away, we shouldn’t hesitate to ask candidates at every level – city council, statewide and inside the Beltway – what they’ve done and will do to protect and preserve the California Dream.   A few initial thoughts come to mind as to the types of questions and issues we all should be posing to our candidates and incumbents.

Empowering the Entrepreneur and Small Business Owner

People in California dream big, but there are still too many inhibitors and roadblocks that make it difficult, if not all out discouraging and impossible, to get a business started, let alone fully operational. What will our leaders do to break down the barriers of just getting a business started? The minimum franchise tax, which new and existing small employers must pay before they even get their business started, is $800, the highest in the nation. Legislation by Democrats and Republicans alike have been attempted to lower this to at least a more reasonable level, only to meet its demise in committee. And, to make matters worse, while millions of small business owners pay this start-up and recurring fee, many claim they have no clue where or how this money is directed once it’s sent to Sacramento.

What are local officials doing to reduce the massive level of permits, requirements, paperwork and “drive by” shakedown inspections that instill fear versus encouragement in our local job and economy drivers? Why must reasonable, realistic regulatory reform like AB 12 by Assemblyman Ken Cooley (Rancho Cordova), which would require greater scrutiny to every new proposed state regulation, be stalled in committee? Small businesses pay 38 percent more to comply with regulations and costs than larger businesses, and yet small businesses make up 99.2% of all businesses and job creators in California.

Small businesses pay three times more in tax compliance than larger corporations, and California has the highest statewide sales tax in the nation (as well as the highest income tax and minimum wage – both small business focused), and yet we see legislation like SB 1445 (Hertzberg) that would extend the already highest sales tax beyond just goods and products to most service industries.

Our candidates need to tell us more than the usual line that “Small businesses are the backbone of our economy”; they need to demonstrate their own backbone by giving specifics about how they’ll help our young dreamers open the door and get through the door of their dreams for entrepreneurial success.

More Support for Vocational Education – Promoting the Full Array of Career Opportunities

I’m delighted and proud that my daughter will be attending a four-year college in the fall, but it’s important for our candidates and officials to talk more about what they’ll be doing to promote and foster more abundant opportunities – and support creative resources to support – vocational/career-technical education in our schools and throughout life. I salute people like Jim Aschwanden, Executive Director of the California Agricultural Teachers’ Association, who works diligently to promote Future Farmers of America and myriad career tech opportunities in our schools. But, as he might be inclined to tell you, many of these programs are stressed, if not decimated. We have great talent from industries – retirees and dedicated leaders – with the know-how, passion and entrepreneurial success willing and ready to help our young people consider and learn how to pursue a lifetime career in hospitality, automotive repair, farming, retail and more without necessarily having to attend and pursue a formal college degree. Make no mistake – California is home to some of the most renowned colleges, universities and academic institutions in the world, and we should encourage our youth to explore opportunities and majors where they want to pursue their dreams. But, instead of raising the already highest minimum wage which results in squeezing out entry level positions, our leaders – Governor Brown, the legislature, local leaders and others – should be taking more aggressive strides to find meaningful ways to engage the private sector and others to introduce our young people to the vast array of career opportunities on the “field” of life. Vocational education is clearly one in which we can do a better job of promoting and supporting various paths of promise for our youth.

Candidates who will “Walk the Talk”, Work Together and Promote a Trusted Political Process  

This also happens to be the first year my oldest child can vote, and, quite frankly, she and her peers are disenchanted, unmotivated and frustrated with taking that step. Again, don’t get me wrong – these are kids that are pretty involved in school, understand some fundamental issues of the state and world, and are striving for a promising future. But they and all voters need to have a greater confidence that their vote will truly make a difference – and that those elected will listen to the people who sent them there. In recent California election cycles, studies show that, on average, 79% of all financial contributions to legislative candidates hailed from special interests outside of their own districts; that means that only 21% (not even a quarter) of a candidate’s financial support actually came from the stakeholder that should matter most: their own constituents. It’s no wonder we see so many politicians smile, nod their head to the small business owner or soccer mom, and tell them they’re in their corner, only to vote in the exact opposite direction – in support of higher small business taxes, more regulations and greater burdens for families and “mom and pops” – once elected. Some important reforms have been made – redistricting reform, open primaries and some additional election reforms – but until we really empower and equate the constituent dollar with those elected, it’s all just a song and dance and our kids will continue to feel a lack of motivation. Their vote needs to count.

And yes, the elephant (or donkey) in the room in this election cycle is the anger, rancor and empty words. I’m not about to point fingers, but we all know that the vitriol demonstrated in this election is not immune to one political party, and our young people have taken note. We need to demand a more civil discourse, a constructive dialogue between candidates and officials once they take office. We saw this in 1983 with Senators Bob Dole (Republican) and Patrick Moynihan (Democrat) as they rallied their congressional allies to develop biparisan social security reform. We saw it with Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders on both sides of the political aisle with the historic workers’ comp reforms of 2004. Again, make no mistake – politics is “rough and tumble”, but these are examples of individuals with the maturity to put aside personal attacks, agree to disagree, find common ground and movement where they could, and treat each other with respect. As a result, things got done. We should demand this sort of maturity from every candidate and ensure processes that foster more regular communication, stewardship, civility and trust.

Inspiring Public Service at an Early Age

Finally, we should be doing everything we can to inspire, educate and motivate our young people to want to engage in some sort of public service – volunteerism, local charity work, and yes, even considering a possible future as an elected leader or public servant. I don’t think we do enough to encourage our future leaders to become, well, future leaders. As I mentioned before, our leaders need to remove roadblocks to entrepreneurship – stop loading the field with more business costs, regulations, open doors to frivolous lawsuits, and other burdens – and instead give our young people the tools to become small business owners on their own. With those experiences, they’ll learn the ins and outs of payroll, accounting, job creation, administration, and community service – traits that will prepare them well for service as a city councilmember, supervisor, school board member, legislator, member of congress, and even President! But we’re not doing that nearly enough, and the results are beyond evident in the behavior of our elected officials. Many simply don’t know what it’s like to run a small business, so many just don’t reflect that in their votes. Sadly, for a number of them, it’s more than that – a loyalty to special interests over their own constituents. But I firmly believe we can do more and do better to promote free enterprise and opportunity in our young people, give them the encouragement and tools to succeed and groom many of them for a future in public service.

 

That day I drop my daughter off at college will no doubt be a tough one – tears of joy and pride that she’s gradually transitioning to the “real world”. And I’ll do this with the hope and confidence that she’ll do great things and work hard to realize her fullest potential and dreams.

In this important year, as we all make individual decisions to transition the face of government at every level, we should all think carefully about what the candidates are saying – and will commit to do – to truly “walk the talk” for our young people today and in the generations that follow. Let’s not be afraid to ask the tough questions and hold their feet to the fire to respond. They signed up for this – and the stakes are way too high for us and the generations to come.