Commentary: Quentin Kopp

Reparations, a Moving Target

President Woodrow Wilson, also former president of Princeton University and governor of New Jersey, a Democrat, once observed: “The history of liberty is the history of the limitations on the power of government.” And the provenance of government usually expands on federal, state and local levels.

Just reflect on actions of all such forms during the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, San Francisco’s residential landlords can finally collect rent from their tenants. That’s true also in other cities like Oakland, which has understandably lost both of its major professional sports teams because it wouldn’t and probably didn’t have money to give them land and other assets to create gaudy new stadiums.

The City of Santa Clara, meanwhile, now understands the costs of lavishing public benefits on the Forty Niners, which has broken criminal laws to secure obedience from five City Council members elected or re-elected with millions of dollars from such private business. (Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen has charged one “bought” councilmember with a crime already, and criminal charges against other politicians are possible.)

Meanwhile, California’s Reparations Task Force in March outdid San Francisco’s versions by considering payment of $360,000 per person to about 1.8 million black Californians who can demonstrate enslavement of an ancestor in the United States. The amount paid by the state taxpayers would total $80 billion. One advocate claims such “reparations” would stop black children from committing crimes.

My friend Ward Connerly founded and is chairman of the American Civil Rights Institute and led the 1996 campaign which successfully stopped quotas in public education, public employment and public contracts by voter enactment of an initiative (California Constitution, Article I, Section 31) prohibiting discrimination or preferential treatment on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin. (Then-Governor Pete Wilson, Connerly and I co-chaired the winning campaign.)

Connerly declared that even though California is a progressive state, “we’re not insane, and so I think that the people of this state would rise up and say ‘no.’” Approximately 2.5 million Californians identify as black or African American. Governor Gavin Newsom’s proposed 2023-2024 budget is $297 billion, less than half the reparation proposal, and a $22.5 billion budget deficit looms, even with our highest-in-the-land state income tax. The reparations wise-men and women last year proposed $220,000 in divided payments, 60% lower than its 2023 version, which doesn’t include a recommended $1 million payment to older blacks for health disparities allegedly shortening their average life span or compensation for property supposedly taken by the government or devaluing black-owned businesses.

One witness, a public policy professor at the University of Connecticut, urged the Task Force “to go beyond … loss estimates ….”

Harvard Magazine’s February issue contained a letter to the editor from a Florida woman who advocates paying such taxpayer money for “economic or social stimulus,” not reparations, because the claimants “will be unending,” like women denied voter rights until 1919, handicapped persons “denied opportunities,” and “long before the Holocaust, Jews were enslaved in Egypt and discriminated against” in the U.S.A. Mark Twain stated: “There is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress.” What about the state legislature and our very own Board of Supervisors?

Finally, attention to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) is in order. Last month these sophists proclaimed the public policy virtue of charging tolls on existing Bay Area highways without mentioning California’s supreme status as the highest state gasoline tax entity in our nation. We motorists pay 54.9 cents per gallon for the California Transportation Commission (appointed by the governor) to spend on highways, roads and streets. (We also pay the federal government 18 cents per gallon.) No mention occurred at MTC of lowering the gasoline tax for drivers who paid their money for such highways. More modified appropriation from Californian Mark Twain in the 19th Century: “In the first place, God made idiots. This was for practice. Then he made MTC members.” (Twain actually said, “Then he made school boards.”)

I must conclude this month with a judicial, if not judicious, story. A Union Pacific shopman, called for jury duty, asked the judge (not me) to excuse him, stating: “We are all very busy at the shop and I ought to be there.” “So, you are one of these men who think the Union-Pacific couldn’t get along without him.” “No, your honor,” replied the shopman. “I know it could get along without me, but I don’t want it to find out.” “Excused,” said the judge.

Quentin Kopp is a former San Francisco supervisor, state senator, SF Ethics Commission member, president of the California High Speed Rail Authority governing board and retired Superior Court judge.

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