Dear California Republicans:

Please help.

Help save your state. And yourselves.

Now, I’m no Republican – I’m a decline to state — but it turns out that you and I are scared about the same thing: The Democrats might just get control of two-thirds of the state legislature.

The problem is that you and I are scared for slightly different reasons.

You’re scared because you won’t be able to play the game you love to play: hostage taking. You block revenue increases and other budget items that require two-thirds, and issue a list of demands that must be met before your vote.

I’m scared because Democrats are likely to overreach and do destructive things to the state with that kind of power. Of course, that’s the nature of having a party in power, and I like the idea of having a party in power. The problem is that there’s no way to get that party out of power in our system. And that means Democrats will truly be unchecked.

You Republicans think this will bring you back into power. You are wrong about this. Yes, Democrats might not keep 2/3. But your party’s political weakness – combined with an election system that is deeply unfair to Republicans – means you’ll never get back into power.

So instead, California is likely to shuffle back between two very bad set-ups. The current one, in which you hold things hostage and produce gridlock and budget deficits. Or a Democratic one, in which the party dominates the legislature without any real check.

Here’s the good news. The path to save the Republican Party is the same way to save the state.

But first you’ve gotta align your policy platform with your self-interest.

Unfortunately, your party remains committed to 2/3 hostage taking, and the preservation of 2/3 supermajorities as much as possible, even though it hasn’t been good for the state or for Republicans. (It’s no coincidence that the last time Republicans had sustained control of the legislature was well before Prop 13 passed). You need to stop the hostage taking and drop the support for 2/3. One day, you need to be able to govern with a majority of your own – particularly if certain things are ever going to be put right in California.

But you shouldn’t surrender 2/3 without the other thing you need. Real reform in legislative elections. Fundamentally, you need to push for an election system that is fair, and fair means that your representation in the legislature should reflect the percentage of the vote that Republicans receive in elections. Such systems are called proportional representation.

Right now, you get a much higher percentage of the vote than your percentage of representatives in the legislature. (This is primarily because there are fewer voters in Democratic districts than Republican districts).

With this change, you’d be in no danger of having less than 2/3 in the legislature. And under this system, you could compete in all corners of the state, since all those votes you gain in coastal California would translate into actual legislators.

And if you turned out voters and fielded more compelling candidates, you could actually win majority control of the legislature. The Democrats would probably help you by abusing their majority power in the post 2/3 world.

And at that point, you’d be very, very glad that 2/3 was no more, because you could govern. Imagine that.

It’s a simple deal: give up 2/3 in exchange for a fair competitive system of elections. And you’d find some Democrats willing to support it, because they so dislike the status quo and because they’re over-confident about Democrats’ future prospects in California.

With this deal, Republicans would be winners and Californians as a whole – at least Californians who believe in democracy and the virtues of a competitive two-party –system – would be winners.

Unfortunately, this kind of change isn’t on the agenda at your convention this weekend. You’ll be talking mostly about fighting efforts to change a system that has made you the permanent minority party. That’s too bad. Because you could win again. If you want to.


Joe Mathews