SAN DIEGO—In mid-August, as kids counted down the remaining days of summer, Janine Tomlin discovered in her mailbox a letter from the San Diego County Office of Education. Mrs. Tomlin, a homeschooler and mother of four, opened the letter and read it three times, just to be sure she understood what it said. She did: The county education office was writing to say that it is now illegal for Golden State parents to homeschool their children independently of public schools.
"Enclosed you will find a list of district and county office homeschool programs," the letter stated. "... Please contact one of them immediately if you are interested in continuing homeschooling, so that you will be operating within the law."
The letter was "so California," Mrs. Tomlin told WORLD. "A classic case of intimidation. The most disheartening thing about it is that I am not the least bit surprised." She's not surprised because, as a Californian, she has already learned what most Americans have not: what happens when liberals take over a state.
Pressuring homeschoolers to shackle themselves to public schools is just one symptom of the malady that has afflicted the nation's most populous state. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Easton is a Democrat who opposes homeschools but supports dumbed-down academic standards and homosexual-sensitivity training in public ones. Her party also controls the governor's chair and both chambers of the California legislature. That has resulted in four years of largely unchecked legislative liberalism that threatens traditional morality, religious freedom, free-market economics, and the unborn.
Example: California leads the nation in enshrining homosexual behavior in law. Over the past four years the number of "gay-rights" bills considered annually in all states more than doubled, from about 130 to nearly 300, according to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. The bills range from legalizing gay adoption and granting marital rights to same-sex partners, to preventing contractors who object to homosexual behavior from bidding on state projects. But states with a balance of liberal and conservative power have been able to limit the advance of gay-rights laws, while passing some reasonable bills that benefit people with HIV/AIDS. New York Democratic lawmakers, for example, served up 41 pro-gay bills in 2001, more than any other state. But because Republicans held a majority in the state Senate, and Republican George Pataki occupied the governor's chair, only one of those laws-one related to HIV-passed.
Meanwhile, eight of 19 pro-gay laws passed in California in 2001, bringing to 22 the total number of such laws passed in the state over the last four years-more than any other state in the nation. Similar "progressive" lawmaking extends to abortion, taxes, and the environment. For example, a bill that would make abortion training mandatory for Golden State medical students considering an OB-GYN specialty is now advancing through Democrat-controlled committees. But a 2002 bill that would have required a mother considering abortion to see an ultrasound picture of her child died a rapid death.
Should anyone be surprised that California, the sun-soaked playground of Hollywood and San Francisco libertines, is suffering the effects of scorched-earth liberalism? Art Croney thinks so. Although Hollywood and San Francisco define California in the minds of other Americans, "the rest of the state is made up of mainstream Americans," said Mr. Croney, head of the Committee on Moral Concerns, and a conservative lobbyist in Sacramento for more than 25 years. "The average California family is still pretty middle-of-the-road."
At least Californians often vote that way on referenda. Although registered Democratic voters outnumber Republicans 45 percent to 35 percent, another 20 percent of Golden State voters are registered as "other" or "decline to state," according to the California secretary of state. Those last two categories may be the ones swinging substantial voter majorities in favor of recent, conservative-minded statewide ballot measures such as those that banned race and gender preferences (55 percent), eliminated most public-school bilingual education (61 percent), and affirmed marriage as a union between a man and a woman (61 percent).
The problem, said Mr. Croney, is that Californians have elected representatives who are much more liberal than they are: "There's a disconnect between the philosophies of mainstream Californians and the majority philosophy in Sacramento." Four openly lesbian lawmakers-Assemblywomen Christine Kehoe, Carole Migden, and Jackie Goldberg, and Senator Sheila Kuehl-have become particularly influential.
It is now state law that:
- All K-12 schoolchildren must be taught to "appreciate" various sexual orientations.
- Public-school teachers and counselors must identify children with the potential to be "intolerant" of homosexuality-and refer them for retraining.
- School sports teams that object to homosexual or transsexual behavior may be barred from participating in California Interscholastic Federation sports.
- All taxpayers must fund marriage-equivalent benefits for homosexual partners of state employees.
- Nonprofit groups such as the Boy Scouts that refuse to hire homosexuals may be fined up to $150,000 per incident.
- A person's "gender" is whatever he or she says it is, regardless of biology.
Carole Migden, who chaired the powerful Assembly appropriations committee from 1997 to 2001, played a key role in ushering in these laws-and in punishing lawmakers who didn't support them. Both Republican and Democratic legislators WORLD spoke with say they observed a pattern during her reign: Bills authored by members who did not support gay-rights legislation often expired in Ms. Migden's committee, while bills written by gay-friendly members sailed through.
Fellow Democrats understood the stakes. In 2001, for example, Republican Assemblyman Dennis Mountjoy was planning legislation that would create a license plate honoring the Boy Scouts. He told WORLD that a Democrat from a neighboring district volunteered to co-author the bill. Mr. Mountjoy would have loved to have a Democrat onboard, since the Boy Scouts were already under heavy liberal fire in the state.
But while Mr. Mountjoy was developing his bill, the Assembly convened to vote on ACR 90, a resolution commemorating the Boy Scouts' 85th birthday. Carole Migden stood during the debate and declared she was "outraged" by the idea of honoring such a discriminatory group: "Vote for the Boy Scouts if you choose ... [but] we reject any group that purposefully and arrogantly discriminates and says it's justified. How dare you!"
Mr. Mountjoy's license-plate co-author, it turned out, did not dare. He voted no on ACR 90 and the resolution failed. "It was incredible," Mr. Mountjoy said. "I asked him, 'How can you vote no on the Boy Scouts' birthday, when you are a co-author on my Boy Scouts bill?'"
"You don't understand my party," he said the Democrat replied nervously. "I have bills coming up and they have to go through Carole Migden."
Democrats in California who vote against such sacred cows as "gay rights" and abortion pay a heavy price. Assemblywoman Sally Havice, a conservative Democrat and former college English teacher from Cerritos, near Los Angeles, has bucked the party line since her election in 1996. As a result, when Ms. Havice authors a bill, fellow Dems routinely strangle it in committee, she told WORLD. Although she is pro-union, party leaders kicked her off the labor committee. When she ran for Congress, they backed the opposing candidate.
Then party leaders assigned Ms. Havice a new seat in the nosebleed section of the Assembly chamber. One day a reporter from a television news crew said to her, "Sally, you're so far back there now we can't even get you on camera!" Ms. Havice replied wryly, "That's the idea, my dear."
How does she know these were punitive measures? Party leaders "told me it was going to be tough for me," she said. Sen. Sheila Kuehl was even more direct, according to Ms. Havice. After Ms. Havice voted against a 1998 Kuehl-authored, pro-gay bill, Ms. Havice said Ms. Kuehl visited her office and told her, "I'm going to get you."
Ms. Kuehl denies the encounter occurred, but told WORLD, "I did call her a coward after the vote, privately, but not in her office. If anybody 'got' her, it was herself and not on this issue."
Regarded as the lynchpin of gay activism in the California Statehouse, Ms. Kuehl first hit the public eye when she played Zelda Gilroy on the 1950s hit sitcom The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. After graduating from Harvard Law School, she went on to teach law at USC, Loyola, and UCLA, then to become the first open homosexual to serve in the California legislature. Fellow legislators describe Ms. Kuehl as intelligent, engaging, and utterly ruthless. She is known among conservative Democrats for punishing nonconformists by funding the campaigns of candidates who run against them.
Ms. Havice said Ms. Kuehl also downplays the implications of gay-rights bills for such areas as school curriculum and religious freedom in order to win support. Ms. Kuehl said that isn't true either. But it is apparent that California's legislature is steamrolling over the will of voters in the state. In 2000, nearly two-thirds of California voters approved Prop. 22, a constitutional amendment that affirmed marriage as a union between a man and a woman. But that didn't stop Carole Migden from ramming through a sweeping same-sex domestic-partners bill in 2001.
That bill, AB 25, granted to homosexuals the right to adopt a partner's children, claim spouse-like medical and unemployment benefits, and sue a partner in a manner similar to divorce. Republican Gov. Pete Wilson vetoed a similar bill in 1999, but this time Gray Davis was governor, and AB 25 became law. At least five more domestic-partners bills are in the pipeline this session, further chipping away at Prop. 22.
California Democrats also are chipping away at religious freedom in the state. One current bill would prohibit Christian contractors who object to homosexuality from bidding on state projects. Another would require all foster parents-many of whom are Christians-to undergo homosexual "sensitivity training." Meanwhile, a bill that would have allowed public-school students "a moment of quiet thought" died in committee, as did a bill to create a "Choose Life" license plate.
Even some religious legislators in California are going with the tide. During the late 1990s, a coalition of Republicans and conservative Democrats, led by former Assemblyman Steve Baldwin, held the line against advancing pro-gay legislation. Democrat Tony Cardenas, who attends the nationally prominent Church on the Way in Van Nuys, voted with that group until 1999. Then he began voting in support of same-sex domestic partners, a pro-homosexuality public-school curriculum, and punishment for employers who object to homosexuality.
By 2000, Mr. Baldwin, a Christian conservative, was so disgusted by what he saw as Mr. Cardenas's abdication of Christian responsibility that he wrote a four-page letter blasting Mr. Cardenas's votes. "I was counting on you as a fellow brother in Christ, and as a fellow host of our legislative prayer group, to stand strong for the values that you arrived in Sacramento with," Mr. Baldwin wrote: "God gave you the opportunity to serve, but you have instead chosen to use your authority to undermine the religious freedoms our Founding Fathers stood for."
Mr. Cardenas did not answer the letter, and also refused WORLD's interview request.
Carl Washington is another California religious conservative who seems to have placed party loyalty over biblical principle. Representing minority-heavy areas of East Los Angeles, Mr. Washington was elected to the Assembly in 1996. An ordained Baptist minister, he used to call homosexuality "a straightforward moral issue" and regularly raised religious objections to pro-gay bills. Then something changed. Beginning in 1999, Mr. Washington began supporting-or refusing to vote against-every pro-homosexuality bill that crossed the Assembly floor. That same year Democratic leaders handed him his first committee chairmanship.
Mr. Washington did not respond to WORLD's interview requests.
Republican Sen. Ray Haynes believes Democrats who give in to pressure here aren't solely to blame for the liberal onslaught in the Golden State: "Right now the conservative movement in California, particularly among Christians, is in disarray." He noted a dearth of grassroots organizing, a disunity of message, and a lack of direction. The success of the liberal agenda, he said, "is as much the responsibility of the conservative leadership in the state as anything else."
And the legislature keeps sending bad bills to Gov. Davis's desk. AB 2651 specifically recruits homosexuals, bisexuals, and the transgendered as foster parents, and requires foster couples to take a "sensitivity training" course teaching them to affirm children's sexual choices; kids who feel foster parents are critical of those choices will be told to report them by calling a statewide hotline.
SB 1301, sponsored by Sen. Kuehl, would allow people who are not licensed physicians to conduct "non-surgical abortions" by administering chemicals such as RU-486. That would make California the first state to make a major distinction between surgical and drug-related abortions. The bill would also forbid the state of California to ban abortion should the Supreme Court ever overturn its 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision. The California Senate approved SB 1301 and the Assembly is expected to follow suit.
With Democrats projected to hold on to both Statehouse chambers, mainstream Californians' only hope for turning back the liberal tide is GOP gubernatorial candidate Bill Simon. Mr. Simon, a Catholic businessman, supports such conservative ideals as school choice and limited government, and has vocally opposed the notion of gay rights, abortion on demand, and the Democratic tax-and-spend ethos so prevalent in the state.
But a jury on July 31 found Mr. Simon's family investment company, William E. Simon & Sons, guilty of fraud, and exacted a $78 million judgment. Mr. Davis is already using the verdict to eviscerate Mr. Simon in attack ads. And the Davis campaign has plenty of money to spread the word: $31 million cash on hand (FlashTraffic, Aug. 10).
Conservative activists say of Mr. Simon's candidacy that it has never been so important for one man to be elected in California. That's because if he loses, California faces four more years of liberal hegemony-perhaps enough to influence the liberal future of the nation.