Thursday, March 10, 2016

California: a one-party state now?

Sherry Bebitch and Jeffe Douglas have an intriguing report on California politics, A one-party state without the rancor Reuters 3/10/2016. The "one-party state" mentioned in the title strikes me as kind of cute, although it doesn't work as political analysis for me.

What they are describing is an effective Governor, Jerry Brown, who is getting constructive things done with a Democratic legislature. And guess what? That combination is popular in California:

It is ironic that California, home of the far-right John Birch Society and such liberal bastions as Berkeley and Santa Monica, is drifting to the political center, even as national politics is lurching both left and right. It remains to be seen, however, whether this is another instance of the Golden State’s being out in front of the rest of the country or just inhabiting a parallel universe.

Today’s California is a bright blue state in federal elections. It is firmly on the progressive side on social issues and proactively seeks to lead the way in addressing climate change. At the same time, Governor Jerry Brown has imposed fiscal restraint. With the help of large Democratic legislative majorities and a voter-approved ballot measure that allows budget passage by a simple majority vote in the legislature, once red-hot appropriation wars have cooled.

A cadre of moderate Democrats has also been able to flex some political muscle in support of business-related issues in the Legislature, which has muted Republican rhetoric and charmed the GOP’s corporate allies. Political civility is the order of the day, at least for now.
In fact, the article uses the one-party-state idea to raise an important question about a relatively new twist in the California electoral structure:

This doesn’t mean that California has become a one-party state. It’s more a “no party” state. Modern California has long had a candidate-centric electoral process. This dynamic has been abetted by a series of systemic changes that have rearranged the political battlefield in ways that shifts the political wars toward the center of the ideological spectrum.

A major catalyst for California’s new “moderate” politics has been a series of ballot measures enacted by voters that overturned the state’s closed primary system, took reapportionment out of the hands of the legislature, unclogged the gridlock surrounding California’s historically contentious state-budget process and, most recently, revamped legislative term limits.

A consequential change has been the implementation of the “top two” primary. Under this system, all candidates for a legislative, congressional or statewide office compete on a single primary ballot. Voters then choose between the two top vote-getters — regardless of party affiliation — in the general election. No longer are there closed primaries in which the most liberal candidate generally prevails in Democratic districts, and hard-right conservatives dominate the Republican districts.
I have to admit I haven't tried to think through the implications of this structure. One worry I have is that it could result in more concentrated efforts by the One Percent to develop the corporate wing of the Democratic Party. As though it wasn't strong enough as it is!

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