David Crane’s California Quest: A nonpartisan group aims to elect ‘courageous’ legislators in the Golden State
David Crane is looking for a few good men and women—three or four, to be precise. A wealthy investor, lifelong Democrat, and economic advisor and friend to former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Crane is seeking “courageous” candidates from any political party committed to tackling tough fiscal issues in California’s legislature. Crane acknowledges that serving in Sacramento isn’t glamorous. But that’s where money and power reside in California, and any effort to address the state’s monumental problems must include the 80-member assembly and 40-member senate.
To identify quality candidates and provide the financing that might help sway a few key races, Crane recently cofounded Govern for California, a nonpartisan group launched with two other wealthy residents: Ronald Conway, a Republican angel investor who handled some of Schwarzenegger’s investments; and Gregory Penner, a political independent and a partner in an investment-management firm. This political venture-capital fund wants to get as few as five principled candidates elected to break the stalemate in a state legislature long dominated by special interests.
Crane argues, perhaps too optimistically, that only a few new faces are needed to achieve substantial reform. “Replacing just a handful of the 120 members with a few courageous, honest, and effective legislators would dramatically improve public services, the state’s investment and job climate, and enable California to eliminate its structural budget deficit,” he says in an interview over lunch at a café in San Francisco’s Marina District. “A state senator from Bakersfield has more impact on the lives of 40 million Californians than a U.S. Senator.”
The project sounds straightforward. But having battled Sacramento’s gridlock, Crane knows that it’s anything but. For one thing, most Californians don’t care about the state legislature or appreciate its enormous power. Few understand that it directs the spending of roughly a quarter of a trillion dollars a year, levies $120 billion in taxes and fees, oversees the education of 9 million students, provides funding for the incarceration of 150,000 state prisoners, finances essential infrastructure, maintains parks, and determines the pension and other benefits of hundreds of thousands of state and local public employees. “Most Californians would be hard-pressed to name their own legislator, much less any of the others,” Crane complains. The Democratic and Republican parties, moreover, have traditionally controlled entry to state politics through election primaries, insisting on fidelity to party dogma.