If there is such a strategy, it is a very closely held secret.

From what I can discern from examining the party’s efforts in legislative elections, Republicans have no plan for winning back the legislature. Yes, the party and legislative leaders have plans for winning a few seats this year, but that’s not the same as winning back control. Heck, it’s not even clear that winning back the legislature is a strategic objective.

Why? Well, the answer one gets when posing that question to Republicans is the obvious one: the districts as now drawn put winning the majority out of reach. That answer should be unsatisfying if you’re a Republican, because it reveals the mentality of a permanent minority. It’s hard to see, given how Californians have sorted themselves geographically into communities of the like-minded, how redistricting reform is going to produce a legislative map that will permit the GOP to recover the majority.

What’s required is a change of mindset – and the embrace of change that Republicans have too long resisted.

The fundamental problem for Republicans is the 2/3 requirement for budget and taxes. Since at least some Republicans have to sign off on every budget or tax increase because of 2/3, the GOP can never make the Democratic majority accountable for the state’s budget and tax problems. Yes, a majority vote system might make it easier for Democrats to raise taxes and spending. But it also would make it possible for the minority party to capitalize on tax and spending hikes by the majority. For now, unfortunately (for both them and for Californians who want to be able to hold their leaders accountable at the polls), they have held onto the 2/3 protections with religious conviction.

And that’s a losing strategy. A party that holds onto the minority-veto protection of two-thirds is a party that’s convinced it will always be in the minority.

But simply dropping 2/3 might not be enough. Republicans also would be wise to embrace electoral reforms that go far beyond what’s currently on the table. The GOP should lead the charge away from our current system of single-member-district legislative elections. The forthcoming book, California Crackup, of which I’m co-author, argues for a model called “mixed-member” with regional districts that elect multiple representatives.

Under mixed-member, voters would get more choice on election day; they could vote for an individual to hold one seat in their regional district, and fill the rest proportionally by choosing a party list.
Proportional representation is an idea usually associated with the left. But it would be a winner in California for Republicans, who would have a significantly larger legislative minority than they do now if seats were awarded proportionally.

More important, proportional representation would be good for all voters. In a proportional system with multi-member districts, San Francisco Republicans, for example, would have legislative representatives of their own. Under the current system, San Francisco’s state legislators have virtually no incentive to do much of anything for their Republican constituents.

If Republicans are serious about winning back majorities – and governing California – you’ll see them eventually embrace these kinds of changes. For now, it appears the party is content to remain in the minority.