Convention wisdom is that California politics is divided between Democrats and Republicans, with a growing number of unaffiliated voters.
But does that explain the reality of California’s political divides. The Republicans are shrinking into irrelevance. The Democrats have less than a majority, but so many of the supposedly unaffiliated voters cast their ballots with the Democrats that they enjoy significant majorities of the votes. However, that big party is also a diverse party, with different strains. So how best to understand the real divides?
Here’s one attempt at an answer:
Look to the baseball playoffs.
Those playoffs start this week, and two of the teams are from California: the A’s of Oakland in the American League, and the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League. The two franchises share a state, yes, but they have very little else in common.
Indeed, their differences highlight what may be the most significant political divide in the state: do you champion austerity? Or do you believe in spending big to win big?
The A’s are one of the cheapest teams in baseball. They’ve made a fetish of austerity, using cheap veterans and cheap young players to construct a winner. In California, austerity has been a winner too. Our recent governors – Brown, Schwarzenegger, Davis, Wilson – were relatively tight with money. Budgets have been cut, and spending has been at or near historic lows. This has been celebrated by politicians like Brown, who argue that discipline restores confidence in California. Austerity is also the dominant media narrative; we journalists tend to judge the state’s success, and on our politicians, on whether the budget is balanced, not on economic growth or whether we’re making necessary investments in education and infrastructure for the future. Voters have largely adopted this habit. The A’s are the team for Brown Democrats, many Republicans and other budget-conscious Californians.
The Dodgers are a different kind of team. They are big spenders, with the highest payroll in the major leagues this year. The team’s owners, who purchased the club at a record price of more than $2 billion last year, have invested not only in players but in the stadium. They’ve spent money to make money, and the result has been a surge in attendance and a winning team.
Translated to politics, the values of the Dodgers are embedded in those – some on the left, and more pro-growth types in the business community – who worry about public disinvestment. They want the state to spend more money on schools and universities to produce a richer state and better-educated populace in the future. They worry about the state’s huge infrastructure deficit, and believe in spending hundreds of billions to meet the state’s needs. They include fans of high-speed rail and water bond.
This year in California politics has seen few direct clashes between the austerity crowd and the spend-money-to-make money investment types. And there is certainly crossover (Brown is on the investment side when it comes to rail and water). But the near future will almost certainly bring more arguments between those who want to hold the line in California, and those who want to invest and grow. The Athletics vs. the Dodgers.
It would make a pretty good World Series on the baseball field too.