Kamala Harris’s upset victory in the attorney general’s race not only completed a sweep of statewide offices for the Democrats, it also put an exclamation point to the political change in California over the last generation.
In the California of a quarter century ago, no candidate for attorney general opposed to the death penalty, criticized by police in her hometown, with hardly any endorsements from the police or district attorneys around the state, would have a prayer of winning.
Yet, Harris won and will be California’s next attorney general. Part of her victory can be attributed to the solid wave of Democratic support that engulfed all the California political races. And, that Democratic wave can, in part, be attributed to a different California electorate that created “Reagan Country” of three decades ago.
One of the ubiquitous political posters during Ronald Reagan’s run for the presidency had a portrait of the former California governor superimposed over an outline of the Golden State with the phrase, “Reagan Country” printed on the poster.
But, California has changed in so many ways over the past 30 years that, politically, it is not the same place that vaulted Reagan to the presidency.
This is not to say that Reagan’s common sense approaches and appeal to the best in people would not capture an election in modern day California. But, the political framework of California is quite different today than it was a mere generation ago.
The Sacramento Bee recently ran a chart showing some of the changes in the state since 1980, the year Reagan was elected president. The purpose of the chart was to show the differences in the state from the time Jerry Brown first served as governor to when he will be governor once again.
The state’s population has increased 50% in that time to nearly 37-million people. The foreign born population has nearly doubled to about 27% of the population and the non-white population is almost 60% of the state up from one-third in 1980. Farm acreage is down considerably and prison population is up — way up, six times what it was in 1980, reflecting tougher laws implemented over that time.
In fact, the attorney general under Jerry Brown was Republican George Deukmejian, who rode his law and order credentials to the governor’s office, where he pursued his tough on crime policies. Deukmejian’s policies are a far cry from Kamala Harris’s.
Which brings us to the governor-elect. His successful effort to re-capture the governor’s office indicates he can change with the changing electorate. However, that electorate that has substantially changed seemingly kept one connection to the voters of that previous generation according to recent election results and post-election polling – concern over taxes. That may not be an obstacle for the newly minted attorney general, but the old/new governor could find it a problem.