Compromise Can Be Smart Politics

John Wildermuth
Journalist and Political Commentator

When Bill Clinton was talking about the virtues of political compromise at the Democratic National Convention Wednesday night, it would be nice to think someone in Sacramento was listening.

I wouldn’t put a whole lot of money on that, though.

There were plenty of legislators in the California delegation in Charlotte, so they might be able to carry the message back home. But what sounded like a great idea in the emotion-packed convention hall is likely to be a tough sell back in the state capital.

Take, for example, state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg. He was in Sacramento this week, telling reporters that he was missing the convention because he wanted to concentrate to building an unbeatable super majority in the state Senate.

Adding just two more seats to the 25 the Democrats hold will give them a two-thirds majority, enabling them to pass tax bills, urgency measures and anything else they want without the bother of ever talking to a Republican about it.

“There is no guarantee, but certainly we have a great shot,” he said.

Steinberg talked about how he avoided pushing the type of issues – mainly financial ones – that needed GOP support “because you don’t control your own destiny.”

So Senate Democrats should get that two-thirds majority and ignore the Republicans and the slightly less than a third of the state’s voters who elect them.

California Democrats, both in Sacramento and Washington, will argue that it’s impossible to negotiate if only one side is willing to deal and there’s something to that. GOP legislators take it as a badge of pride that they will never be accused of working with a Democrat, especially since those who do are quickly stripped on any influence in the party. (See Fletcher, Nathan; Adams, Anthony; Nestande, Brian).

Those Republicans so quick to boast of ideological purity might want to contemplate a few numbers:

30.2 – percentage of Californians registered as Republicans. And falling.

13.3 – percentage gap between Democratic and Republican registration. And growing.

0 – number of GOP statewide elected officials.

Those aren’t the stats of a party that can afford to ignore the possibility of negotiating with the opposition, half a loaf and all that.

And if those numbers aren’t enough to warn state Republican leaders of the growing threat of irrelevancy, they should take a look at the speaker list at the Democratic convention, which was chockablock with Californians: Nancy Pelosi, Judy Chu, Steve Westly, Barbara Lee, Antonio Villaraigosa, Xavier Becerra, Kamala Harris.

Then glance at last week’s GOP get-together. Unless Kevin McCarthy managed to sneak on stage when no one was looking, California was shut out.

So why should California Democrats even think about trying to cooperate with their Republican colleagues, who don’t want to work with them and don’t even seem to like them much.

Well, for the same reason Clinton was out there Wednesday saying nice things about Republicans like Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and even George W. Bush.

Not only is cooperation and compromise the right way to get things done in a democracy, it’s also smart politics. It’s what voters, tired onto death of the continual backbiting and sniping that passes for political dialogue these days, want to see. And reward.

While constant conflict might seem to be good partisan politics, “what works in the real world is cooperation,” Clinton said. When Republicans and Democrats work together, it doesn’t mean they stop disagreeing, he added, but their focus is on getting something done.

In California, where the number of decline-to-state voters is 21.3 percent with a bullet, attracting those independents can be the difference between winning and losing almost any election. And the last thing those voters want to see is partisan posturing from either side.

There’s always going to be a partisan divide and that’s a good thing, because neither party has a monopoly on good sense and smart ideas. While true bipartisanship is a fantasy that, thankfully, is never going to be realized, both parties should see political cooperation as enlightened self-interest.

Work together, cut the best deal possible and move the state forward a bit at a time, all the while keeping a lid on the name- calling and ultimatums. The voters like it, the people’s work gets done and legislators of both parties might even find it a refreshing change.

“Democracy does not have to be a blood sport,” Clinton said to loud cheers and applause Wednesday. “It can be an honorable enterprise that advances public interest.”

Even in California.

John Wildermuth is a longtime writer on California politics.

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