Peter Schrag

Peter Schrag, a longtime education writer and editor, is the author of Paradise Lost: California's Experience, America's Future and most recently, California: America's High-Stakes Experiment. He is a former editorial page editor of the Sacramento Bee.

Recent Articles

The Populist Road to Hell: Term Limits in California

It sounded like a good idea, but if California is any indication, term limits are a recipe for political chaos and increased special interest influence.

T here are all sorts of ironies in the term-limits movement that has swept the country in the past six years. The most obvious is that while Congress has been the prime target, it is the state legislatures that have (so far) taken the hit--some 20 states have imposed legislative term limits in the past six years, all but one through the initiative. And while generally regarded as populist, the term-limits cause in some states has depended on a few conservative deep pockets, such as Kansas oil billionaires Charles and David Koch. In California, the deep pockets were those of a conservative Los Angeles politician, Pete Schabarum, who recently retired after five years as a legislator and 19 years as a county supervisor--no term limits for him. Since the law prevented Schabarum from keeping for himself the $1 million-plus he still had in his campaign treasury, he decided he would use it to buy his fellow citizens a term-limits initiative. Term limits were not, in other words, just the...

Feinstein's Rule

S enator Dianne Feinstein has never been shy about grabbing hot-button law-and-order issues. So it was hardly surprising in the days after September 11 to see the California Democrat leading the charge for tougher visa restrictions and other controls on foreigners in the United States. As she pointed out, most of the plane hijackers who crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon had been in this country legally. Feinstein proposed a six-month moratorium on all student visas. After heated opposition from university presidents, whose institutions crave foreign-student tuition, the idea was quietly dropped. But it was soon succeeded by a sweeping Feinstein bill, co-sponsored by Republican Senator John Kyl of Arizona, that would require tougher screening of all visa applicants, mandate better federal tracking of foreign visitors, require a background check before issuing any student visa, and block all student visas to individuals from countries that the State Department deems...

Globalization and Innocence

In the last few weeks we've heard endless reiterations of the phrase about the world never being the same again. And who can really deny it? Anyone looking at the scene where the World Trade Center used to be, or trying to imagine what madness would drive human beings to such acts, could hardly think otherwise. At the same time, we can admire the Israelis, or dare one say it, even the Palestinians, for not telling us: "Now you know what it feels like." Many must be thinking it. But if you've lived long enough, and lived in the right places, you've probably had the same thought a half-dozen times in your life: What will the next "normal" look like? I first had it, living in Brussels, in May 10, 1940, the day the Germans invaded Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxemburg. I was nine. Two weeks later, we were caught by the German army -- my mother and grandmother and I -- in the French city of Boulogne, and like hundreds of thousands of other refugees, sent back where we had come from. A...

Where the Right Lost

A fter the muddled 2000 election and the evenly divided Congress it produced, it didn't take any special wisdom for the pundits to conclude that nobody got a mandate and that voters were too split to send any clear signal. But on some major issues, the electorate spoke with absolute clarity. One such issue was public education. Voters overwhelmingly rejected voucher initiatives in Michigan and California, approved a measure to make it easier to pass local school bonds in California, and supported initiatives to increase funding and teacher salaries and reduce class sizes in Colorado, Oregon, and Washington. Equally important was the nearly unequivocal vote of no confidence in the nation's repressive drug laws. Of the seven major drug-law-reform initiatives on state ballots, five passed. Easily the biggest was California's Proposition 36, which requires that virtually all persons convicted of nonviolent drug possession be sent to treatment rather than jail or prison; voters endorsed...

The Longest Ballot

March 7 is primary day in California, Ohio, New York, and most of New England; it could all but decide who will be the major party presidential candidates this fall. But of all the states, as one campaign consultant said, California "is the killer." And California this year will conduct one of the more extraordinary and potentially bizarre elections ever held. There'll be primary contests for legislators, members of Congress, and countless local officials, and there'll be the usual long list of state ballot measures--20 in all, including 10 voter initiatives on everything from campaign finance reform to gay marriage, juvenile crime, tobacco taxes, and Native-American gaming. In a lot of places, there'll also be local referenda. But in addition, there'll be something that's almost certainly unique and that in California, with its large prize of convention delegates (roughly one-fifth the number needed to win), has the potential for creating no end of...

Pages