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Saturday, Sep 01 2012 10:00 PM

We're not just a punch line anymore, Mitt

By The Bakersfield Californian

The cool kids at last week's Republican National Convention were the delegates from Ohio and Virginia, Michigan and Wisconsin -- the in-play states that Mitt Romney almost certainly must sweep on Nov. 6.

The outcasts were the ones from California, a state so comfortably in Barack Obama’s pocket that Romney risked no backlash whatsoever when on Aug. 8 he smack-talked the Golden State at a campaign stop in Iowa.

"Entrepreneurs and businesspeople around the world and here at home," Romney said, "think that at some point America is going to become like Greece ... or like California."

California is not remotely close to Greece in terms of economic dysfunction, of course. Government debt as a percentage of GDP, to compare one measureable, is 4.65 percent in California and 165 percent in Greece. We Californians can agree that Sacramento has utterly failed us — or, more accurately, that we have failed ourselves — but that’s a conversation we're entitled to have among just ourselves.

It's a family thing, OK?

The rest of the country doesn't see it that way. California bashing makes for great sport. Home foreclosures, employer abandonment -- is it worse anywhere else in the U.S.? Can't be. Or can it?

The Atlantic reports in an Aug. 29 article headlined “California Is Suddenly Adding Jobs Faster  than Texas — Why?” that a certain widespread assumption — that Texas continues to poach California’s jobs — is losing traction. “California added 365,100 nonfarm jobs in the year ending in July, a 2.6 percent increase and the state's largest 12-month gain since 2000,” writes The Atlantic’s Jordan Weissman. “Texas picked up 222,500, or 2.1 percent, according to U.S. Labor Department statistics. California also outpaced Texas the prior month.”

How could this have happened? One theory is that California's housing market is the state’s key economic benchmark, and housing is finally on an upswing; oil is Texas’ benchmark, and oil has been flat. In any case, writes Weissman, “perhaps ... it’s time to stop using (California and Texas) as proxies in the war over whether liberals or conservatives are better at creating jobs.” Or, put another way, time to let up on the Greece jokes.

The reversal of fortunes would seem to throw a wrench into the idea that states with lower tax rates are more likely to see economic growth. As Bloomberg News reports, California, the world’s ninth-biggest economy, has a statewide sales tax of 7.25 percent, highest in the nation.

And yet California's per capita job growth numbers for nonfarm labor now surpass Texas, Iowa, Massachusetts — every state, in fact, except North Dakota, according to Arizona State University's W.P. Carey School of Business.

And California isn't even in the top 10 in terms of home foreclosure rates. Florida is No. 1, a fact Tampa-bound Romney was wise to skip in his Iowa punch line.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that many states, not just beleaguered California, are still trying to work their way back. I refer to a distinctly unscientific survey of newsroom employees’ summer vacations into the American heartland — Michigan, Colorado, Idaho, Wisconsin.

Former Opinion section editor Dianne Hardisty drove cross-country with her husband, Jack. “As I traveled through a lot of the states — blue and red —  I noticed boarded-up shopping centers ... Wow, it’s not just happening on the Left Coast ... (And yet) we have heard a long line of Republican politicians, including our very own Assemblywoman Shannon Grove, insist California should be more like Texas.”

Health reporter Rachel Cook visited Idaho and found circumstances to be similar but generally "not as healthy as Bakersfield."

City Hall reporter Antonie Boessenkool visited her native western Michigan and found few visible signs of economic distress -- much like in Bakersfield. "But you go across the state to Detroit -- that's different," she said. "Detroit's not there anymore."

Promising signs of health in a blue state like California don’t fit the RNC narrative, but they’re out there. America still has a long way to go, coast to coast, and we’ll probably still be trying to get there come 2016. But the needle is moving.

Email Editorial Page Editor Robert Price at rprice@

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