Given the trash talk Republicans have tossed at California lately, one might think the GOP is holding its national convention in Florida this week just to be as far away as possible from the Golden State.
To which many Californians might reply, "Say hi to Tropical Storm Isaac for us, OK?"
It's not as if Californians can't take a joke. Indeed, our state's often-bizarre politics have been fodder for comedians for decades. California is not in play in the presidential election, but now the country's most populous state has become a veritable punching bag as the GOP attempts to whip up voters nationwide by pointing to the Golden State's budget travails.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney smack-talked
"Just kidding about that one -- in some ways."
It might've played well in the Hawkeye State -- a battleground where four recent polls show President Barack Obama leading by less than 2 percentage points -- but it doesn't reflect reality, economists and fiscal experts say.
"Anyone making that comparison is looking at things at a superficial level," said Gabriel Petek, Standard & Poor's top analyst on California. "It's just a completely different level of problems."
Petek likened California's
"California is actually on a path of repair; it's making some progress toward improving, which is very much in contrast to what we see happening in Europe at this point," he said. "The fact is, the general fund is at a historically low level when you compare it to the economy."
Of course, in politics, one sarcastic jab begets another. "@MittRomney thinks CA is like Greece," U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., tweeted two days after Romney's poke. "Maybe he should sell his $12M mansion in La Jolla & move to the Caymans?"
The next day, 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin picked up the thread with a Facebook post calling California "a cautionary tale" for the nation's direction.
"Obama's America is today's California -- complete with $100 billion taxpayer funded bullet trains to nowhere; out-of-control environmental extremists who have
Christopher Thornberg, a founding partner of Beacon Economics and an expert in California's economy, said he would answer Palin's screed with a question: "If California is such a hellhole, as you describe, why does the state have some of the highest property values in the nation? You wouldn't think the land here would be worth a plug nickel, eh?"
Thornberg, who in an earlier job with UCLA's Anderson Forecast authored economic outlooks for California and its subregions, said he's not a Democrat, "but listening to the bull coming from that (Republican) side of the aisle, I'm getting ready to become one."
He said California certainly has its problems -- the dominance of public workers unions, a penchant for over-regulation and so on -- but it also has a vibrant, multifaceted economy and a ratio of government workers to private-sector workers that's comparable with other states.
But with Democrats holding all statewide elected offices and majorities in both houses of the Legislature, he said, California is a convenient target for red-staters.
"They have nothing to lose by beating up on California; after all, the Republican Party here is a shambles. It's not like they'll be undermining themselves by knocking California," he said. "Right-wingers inside the state constantly use California as a punching bag."
The last GOP presidential candidate to carry California was George H.W. Bush, in 1988. Since then, Democratic nominees have won the state with ever-larger numbers. The state's Republican voter registration has plummeted 5 percentage points in the past decade to 30.5 percent.
GOP convention delegate Judy Lloyd, of Danville, who served in President George W. Bush's Labor Department, said Californians "deserve" the ridicule.
"I'd like to see us get things back under control," said the upstate New York state native who moved to California in 1998 when Gov. Pete Wilson was leaving office. He "left the state in the black," Lloyd said. "And look at where we are now."
She said the convention delegation is heavy with prominent businesspeople such as 2010 gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman, the former eBay CEO who now runs Hewlett-Packard -- folks "who have actually built businesses and created jobs."
"We take it seriously because we feel attached to our state and we want to learn from delegates from other states that are doing better and more prosperous than we are," Lloyd said. "We love our weather. We love California. ... But it's just not the same as it used to be."
California often provides fodder for comedy. Here are a few recent late-night examples:
"The Mars Rover is starting to send back pictures. After studying photos taken by the robot, scientists are saying that Mars resembles California. Both have large mountains, little water, and the possibility of hidden aliens."
-- Conan O'Brien, Aug. 9
"A couple of big birthdays today: comedian Tom Green and former Governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger. Now Tom Green and Arnold Schwarzenegger are very different. One has disgusted millions with his revolting antics and the other one's Tom Green."
-- Craig Ferguson, July 31
"California is so broke that San Francisco has a cover charge and two-drink minimum to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge. California is so broke that Mexico fixed the hole in the fence to keep us from crawling back in again. California is so broke that I saw a going-out-of-business sign at a meth lab."
-- Jay Leno, July 13
"Scientists say over the next hundred years, the coast of California will sink almost 5 feet. So the presidential candidates need to do something. Mitt Romney is conflicted. On one hand, he denies that global warming exists. But if California is under water, he would definitely win the next election. I think if any state has a chance to come up with a technological solution to rising sea levels, it's California. In Hollywood, we're going to do our part by making a crappy reality show about it."
-- Craig Ferguson, June 25
"The first case of mad cow disease since 2006 was discovered right here in the United States. The good news: Since the cow is in California, instead of putting the cow down they are going to enroll him in anger management classes."
-- Jay Leno, April 26