During a recent discussion of election results an experienced senior California Democratic leader reflected on how dominant Democrats remain in California and (I believe sincerely) how national Republicans are on the brink of irrelevence. Acknowledging much of the prior, I was stunned by the latter claim and have thought a bit about the mindset of California Democrats.
First, California from a Republican point of view:
- This does remain the bluest of blue states. Democrats retained all of the state-wide offices, still hold predominant majorities in the assembly and senate, and even gained a House of Representatives seat. Republicans did gain enough seats in both houses to require some Republican votes for any tax increase, their candidates for Controller and Secretary of State came close, and Grow Elect continued to add Hispanic Republican office holders at the local level.
- During the decades of Democratic dominance California has moved from being the "Golden State" to being in the bottom few in k-12 education, business climate, tax burden, debt rating, and poverty rate. Nevertheless, party registration is 43 % Democratic, 28 % Republican, and 21% "Decline to State". Long term bad results of Democratic policies have not significantly affected the political direction.
- The Democrat base is formidable - public employee unions for money and campaign workers; Hispanics for voters; and environmentalists for money and ideologues. The leadership is over-aged - Jerry Brown, Nancy Pelosi, Barbara Boxer, Diane Feinstein, party chair John Burton - but for now they are firmly in control. It is easy to see how they could focus on their political success rather than the cumulative impact of their policies.
But, the national picture of the November election is radically different.
- The Republican House majority of 244 members is the most since the Roaring 20's. Nancy Pelosi has lost over a quarter of her caucus since she passed Obamacare in 2011, and most agree that Republicans will control the House until at least the redistricting after the 2020 census. (Democrats blame gerrymandering; the real cause is that minorities are heavily concentrated in urban centers and it would take substantial reverse gerrymandering to spread them among suburban districts.)
- The Republican Senate majority of 54 members (including Dr. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana) is the most since 2005. This will be contested in 2016, but there are a few more Red states than Blue states and Republicans have an inherent long term structural advantage.
- The greater measure is at the state level where Republicans hold 31 governorships, including pick-ups in deep Blue states of Massachusetts, Maryland, and Illinois.
- Also at the state level, in a complete reversal of the past century, Republicans control 68 of 98 legislative chambers including 23 states where they control both chambers and the governoprship. (See map.) This is the most legislative chambers that Republicans have enjoyed since the party was formed in 1854. How could this be, my Democratic friend might ask? In addition to the anti-Obama wave, this is a result of the South turning totally Red, the recruitment of good candidates, and an RNC focus on funding competitive races.
And what is one to make of the California Democrat's disconnect on the national picture? It is one thing to say that the wave stopped at the Sierras; another to deny that there was a wave. There are two possible explanations:
1. Long term successful politicians are by nature optimists and cheerleaders. They see what they want to see and are surrounded by people who tell them what they want to hear. They can watch their favorite TV networks, log on to their favorite web sites, and subscribe to their favorite newspapers. A pliant press makes this particularly easy. A career of electoral success validates the blinders.
2. Long term successful politicians are by nature cynical and manipulative. They understand the difference between policy and politics, making sure to always be associated with policies that are popular with their constituencies. Over time they are so committed to those policies that they cannot fathom that other constituencies may prefer other policies. They may admit this to themselves, but they must never admit it to their voters.
Liberals and Conservatives are equally subject to the belief that their local success must eventually be replicated everywhere. Either explanation of the California delusion - optimism, cynicism, or both combined - should also serve as a cautionary note for those living in places like Texas or South Carolina.
This week's video is the Eric Garner choke hold in New York City - not because you haven't seen it, but because the non-indictment is the most important event of the week. Ferguson was an Al Sharpton / national media scam; this one deserves outrage. The role of the grand jury is not to decide guilt or innocence, but to determine whether there was probable cause for a trial. The process worked in Ferguson, Missouri, but not in New York City.
Bill Bowen - 12/5/14