California Crackup

Mark Paul is well-acquainted with California politics. Besides an impressive career, with almost twenty years as an editorial writer, columnist, and page editor of the Sacramento Bee and his current positions as senior scholar at the New America Foundation and visiting scholar at the Institute of Governmental Studies at UC Berkeley, Paul was also a politician himself, holding the office of deputy treasurer of the State of California.

When he began writing a book on California’s worsening fiscal crisis, Paul turned to Tinderbox. The book, California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It coauthored by Paul and Joe Mathews, delves into the state’s struggle with reform and how individual ballot measures led California to today’s financial crisis.

Paul analyzed how the propositions cropping up on California ballots affected budget issues. His research focused on numerous aspects of countless propositions, and the connections were incredibly complicated. Tinderbox allowed Paul to store all of the information he needed, while analyzing exactly how different ballot measures affected the budget.

Agents automatically assign color codes and badges to initiatives from eleven election years. The increasing preponderance of unfunded programs, Paul concludes, poses a continuing strain on the state budget.

Paul tracked the data for numerous initiatives by creating a separate note for each initiative. “Every ballot issue from the last 20 years is a separate note,” he explains. “I brought the text—a summary of each ballot measure—into Tinderbox and then populated the attributes with all the data I needed to look at.” Paul used a prototype to automatically stock each new ballot measure note with the key attributes he was investigating—around 20 bits of data on each measure, ranging from its cost to taxpayers to whether or not it was constitutional. Using prototypes ensured consistency among the data fields for each measure, allowing for easier and more accurate analysis.

By the time he’d filled in information on all of the ballot measures, Paul had collected 272 ballot notes. “From there it was on to analyzing the data, and for that, Tinderbox’s agents are the perfect tool,” he continues. Not only could the agents display the raw numbers on how many bills passed and the approximate cost of those bills, but they could also be used to display information visually. “With agents, you can code the different measures by color,” Paul explains. “And they give a visual representation of what the data looked like over the last 20 years.”

After analyzing the data, Paul began to write the book. “Tinderbox, in the very same file, lets you begin writing as well,” Paul notes. After creating some notes on his findings, he was able to easily move his notes and data into his favorite writing software.

Tinderbox also served as a wonderful presentation device when talking about his research. Using his Tinderbox maps, Paul created visually interesting slides with his data clearly presented. “At the end of the talk,” Paul recalls, “there weren’t many questions about the presentation, but there were a lot of questions about 'how did you do that slideshow?' My answer? ‘A little bit of Keynote and a lot of Tinderbox.’”

Mark Paul is deputy director of the California program at the New America Foundation and a visiting scholar at the Institute of Governmental Studies at UC Berkeley. Formerly, he was editorial page editor of the Oakland Tribune; editorial writer, columnist, and deputy editorial page editor at the Sacramento Bee; and deputy treasurer of the state of California.

His work on California’s legislative issues has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, the Sacramento Bee, and The American Interest.

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