They are the one party in a one-party state. And they still can’t govern.

Governing means being able to control the purse strings of a state. And for many reasons – some of which are all their fault, others of which are all our fault – they don’t have control.

The evidence is plain: Democratic interest groups, campaign donors and politicians are putting huge energy into ballot initiatives this year. All these initiatives and tax increases and spending priorities from a party that controls the governorship, the regulatory apparatus, and big majorities in the legislature.

This is of course a consequence of California’s broken governing system and outdated, complicated constitution. It all but requires people to go to the ballot to do anything, including changing things previously done at the ballot.

But that doesn’t get Democratic leadership off the hook. The governor and his party had a historic opportunity to remake that governing system and give us a new constitution. They had a historic recession that made plain how broken things were. They had—for a time – supermajorities necessary to put things on the ballot. And they even had a media and public open to big change.

What did they do? They didn’t even try.

Instead, they sought to embrace and tweak – and thus legitimize – the system left by generations of mindless votes and rules left. They have more deeply entrenched the broken nonpartisan municipal elections (which can be hardly called elections, given the low turnouts) and anti-politics politics that were brought to us my racist, eugenicist “Progressives” more than a century ago. And they have re-ratified the Prop 13 centralized system that keeps power in Sacramento.

One big result: by not reforming, by not developing a new governance system, they missed an opportunity to take advantage of low borrowing costs and give the state and its infrastructure the thorough rebuilding it needs. Instead, they followed Gov. Brown down a path of austerity. This was a Bill Buckner-level error—they let the ball of opportunity roll through their legs.

Now they are going to make policy at the ballot initiative, and you can bet the policies won’t work as intended. They can’t – they’re built on complicated structures that are too hard to govern and understand. We’ve seen this again and again—most recently with Prop 47.

Today’s Democratic leaders imagine themselves as different, a new generation, enacting new policies and charting a different future. But they are only imagining that.


  1.  Was to reform, to unplug so many things, and give us a new constitution … The need was obvious. The arguments were many – including the fact that Democrats represent a more diverse California that has never gotten a chance to frame its governing system.
  2. Dems hoisted on own petard. Dan Walters writes that liberal groups have to turn to the initiative process because the loss of the super majorities, a fiscally conservative Jerry Brown, and mod Dems are making their goals impossible in the Legislature. “That left the initiative process as the only avenue open to Democratic politicians, unions and other liberal groups to pursue their major agendas and is why voters will decide so many of their issues next year.”