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Mike Miller

California is not known as the Golden State for nothing. In fact, the city of Stockton was one of many California towns transformed by the gold rush of 1848; it grew from a small village to a thriving commercial center. Incorporated in 1850, the city and port of Stockton promised to grow and prosper. It is now the 13th-largest city in California and one of several cities that has, sadly, filed for bankruptcy for the first time in its history.

Vallejo, Mammoth Lakes, San Bernardino and now the town of Atwater have all fallen victim to the death grip of special interests such as public employee unions. Other cities, including Orange and even Los Angeles are close to the abyss of financial default. Each of these metropolitan centers suffers from the same stranglehold that was recently illuminated on the streets of Chicago, when striking teachers were warned by Democratic Mayor Rahm Emanuel to go back to work.

How could it be that our elected representatives in Sacramento didn't take action to help save the fiscal integrity of the cities and towns that we call home?

The engine that has driven this crisis is fueled by special interests such as large corporations that fund candidates and also by money taken from state employees by law and given to unions, which then use some of that money to help elect and re-elect representatives that do their bidding. Those same representatives have held a majority in California for decades and they vigorously uphold their supporters' leveraged positions by blocking proposed laws to reform the system.

Corporations that "buy" candidates and powerful public employee unions are not the only cause of our financial problems, but they have made a bad situation utterly intolerable. A sample of how dramatic the damage has become can be found in San Jose, where pensions for city workers rose 350 percent in 10 years. The hemorrhaging must stop.

Fortunately, we have a chance to make a real change in how business is done in the halls of our state Capitol. Possibly the most important measure on the ballot this fall is Proposition 32. It offers genuine constructive reforms that, when implemented, will stop corporations from paying representatives who follow their lead and put an end to unions using money collected by the state from public employees to fund political campaigns.

Union members could still donate as much as they want to political campaigns but their hard-earned money will not be automatically deducted from their checks by the government. They will be free to support the political campaign of their choice rather than what the union chooses for them.

As stated, public employee union mischief is not the only problem that Prop. 32 addresses. It also prohibits contractors from supporting politicians that have helped them win state-funded contracts. In other words, it will level the field for contractors that cannot afford to, or do not want to financially support politicians who have influence in how our tax money is spent.

These are both very serious issues that have obvious, real-life consequences and Prop. 32 is designed to remedy them both.

As bad as our financial woes are, we have been given a tool to help bring back the luster of our Golden State in Prop. 32. We dare not lose this precious chance to make things right once again and take the power back from special interests that have been using it to bring decay to our state.

The citizens of Stockton should again be able to experience real heartfelt pride in their city. It's a city that can still muster as much promise and excitement for the future as was evident in 1850.

Vote yes on 32 to help turn things around for all of our citizens. We deserve to live in a state that is not manipulated by those who cast our future aside for financial gain. Cast them aside instead by voting for solvency, responsibility and against corruption. A vote for Proposition 32 will help to put the gold back in the Golden State after all.

Mike Miller of Bakersfield is a steel fabrication estimator for a local manufacturer.