Writer’s note: I am a self-described moderate-liberal and registered Democrat. The following is my personal opinion, and is not meant to be taken as anything other than that. As it is an opinion, others may take issue with parts, or disagree on the whole. That is okay; that is one of the fundamental principles on which the United States was founded, right?
California is by no means a microcosm of the state of American politics at large; California is slightly center-left, whereas the country is slightly center-right. However, the current state of the California State government is expressive of where we are as a whole, and how we got here, largely because it can be argued that California is ahead of the rest of the country in terms of its demographics.
Democrats control both houses of the state legislature with a supermajority; they currently control all state offices of California’s multi-headed executive branch; by extension, this means they hold strong sway over judicial appointments, and most other aspects of the state government. However, when you look at the road and how we got here, it is not one overarching factor; it is a serious of small decisions which add up to where we are now.
So, the background is easy: Democrats had been pushing for a supermajority for years. Republicans managed to get the district-drawing power away from the legislature, creating more competitive districts. To their horror, these districts were not to their liking, but they found themselves stuck with them for the next ten years. Bring in the 2012 election results: a supermajority.
The factors are easy to say, but difficult to rectify, since it was localized problems that lead us here:
1. Republicans could not win at the assembly level enough; they couldn’t win at the State Senate level enough. This points to (a) bad candidates, and (b) bad campaigns. Despite resistance by some pockets in many districts, the idea of raising taxes, especially on big corporations, found traction, and although many GOP candidates fought against it, Democrats were able to force the issue.
2. The swamping of local ads onto broadcast television, including NFL games, as well as the stuffing of mailboxes, nonstop phone calling, and e-mails, generally left a bad taste in a lot of people’s mouths, which can have one of two effects: (a) it turns them off from voting, or (b) they stop and think about the issues, which in a lot of swing districts benefited the Democrats this cycle, including one where I reside.
3. Moving to a broader level, we look at the initiatives each party supported. The attempt to bust unions failed, the major tax increase initiative passed, and consequently, Democrats gained at the state level. Although the individual candidate is important, the initiatives they actively support do reflect back on them, one reason why the GOP contender in my state senate district, who eventually lost after a thorough counting, side stepped a lot of them.
So, what does all this mean? Given that the California GOP is pretty much broke, although this can be partially off-set by the continued fallout from Citizens United, it means that the GOP needs to recruit better, and find better candidates; OR, they need to let the process work more organically; let the state assembly candidates rise for themselves.
Furthermore, the state GOP needs to remember which state they are actually in, and that all candidates are in this together; this includes statements, perspectives, and the aforementioned initiatives. Yes, in some districts, staunch, conservative views towards issues such as abortion and gay rights will win you the vote, but if you say something off the cuff to win over, some might argue pander to, the crowd in front of you, and it goes viral, you need to remember that in more swing districts that could backlash onto your colleague there. The now infamous “legitimate rape” comment in the 2012 election cycle overtly peppered discussions on the rights of rape victims, which in turn effected many campaigns. At the state level, you’re going to find difficulties in trying to have all your candidates on the same page, but it’s a task worth doing.
A lot of Republicans right now are angry that they lost the legislature, that they lost the tax battle, and that Governor Brown is in office. The fact is, though, that you cannot argue with the will of the majority. Democrats cursed the 2004 Presidential election, but we accepted it. Republicans in California need to regroup and accept that their role now is contingent upon working with the supermajority.
If the California GOP is to survive on their own, they need to do the following:
1. Detach from the national party, even if only temporarily. The 2012 GOP platform was viewed by many as extremely right wing, and that impacted the local races here. The state GOP needs to rebrand itself, and standing on its own will help.
2. Openly distance itself from the scars of its past: hispanics in California are a substantial demographic, far stronger than the white vote. Prop 187, despite being over 20 years old, still resonates with the hispanic community, and in a bad way.
3. The overall party needs to move towards the center. Moving towards a more conciliatory position will show an inherent willingness to talk, negotiate, and compromise with Democrats on key issues, which in turn will improve the party’s look.
4. Stop trying to rig the system, or at least kill the perception. The independent redistricting commission was accepted by voters, but still viewed by many liberals as an attempt to force a major realignment. The commission has been accepted and will likely remain, but the GOP needs to accept its findings in the next redistricting cycle, and not fight it tooth and nail if it doesn’t like what it sees.
The jungle primary system, aka the top two system, spells doom for the California GOP if they don’t rebrand and get their ducks in a row. In many areas, the GOP won’t have a representative in the general, and it won’t necessarily be two Democrats either; it’ll either be a green partier going up against a Democrat, or some other grassroots party making a move where the GOP is weak.
And weak it is: facing record low voter registration (30%), there are plenty of third parties just aching for a shot, and after this past cycle, seeing it. The National GOP was also in bad shape a few years ago; it isn’t anymore. The real question is whether or not the GOP in California will resurrect itself, or resign to being a shadow of the party that sent governors to Sacramento.