Death of the California Republican Party: Murder or Suicide?

Tony Quinn
Editor, California Target Book

The California Republican Party is dead. Call the undertaker, haul away the corpse.

But was it murder, or was it suicide? Mostly a combination, a result both of demographic changes and the stupidity of Republican leaders.

The modern GOP began with the election of Ronald Reagan as governor in1966. He built a coalition of fiscally conservative suburban voters and “Reagan Democrats,” alienated from their historic party. Republicans carried California for six straight presidential elections using that formula (1968, 1972, 1976, 1980, 1984 and 1988)

But with the end of the Cold War, defense related jobs disappeared, and were replaced by the high technology information age. The new high tech voters were turned off by a less tolerant GOP conservatism, and over the past 20 years Republicans have suffered a long decline in the suburbs. The 2008 election marked the end of the GOP with most high wealth suburban voters.

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How Prop. 11 Passed

Tony Quinn
Editor, California Target Book

In a series of comments this summer, I wrote that Proposition 11 could pass, despite numerous unsuccessful past redistricting reform initiatives, if the proponents made the political class, rather than the arcane subject of redistricting, the center of their campaign.

That appears to be what happened. The race is not over as there are several million still uncounted absentee and provisional ballots, but the margin seems large enough that Proposition 11 will be enacted and California will have a redistricting commission for the 2011 legislative redistricting.

In a series of very effective television ads, proponents made the point that Prop 11 disciplined out of control politicians and allowed the voters to turn them out of office, without of course saying how. Proponents were also lucky that legislative Democrats and their allies did not spend lavishly to defeat the measure as they have in the past, and that some prominent Democrats joined Gov. Schwarzenegger in supporting redistricting reform.

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The Redistricting Discourse Carries On

Tony Quinn
Editor, California Target Book

Joe Mathews dismisses my analysis that the redistricting initiative might pass with all the usual arguments as to why past measures lost: support by good government reformers and the media is irrelevant; the public doesn’t care, it’s biggest booster, Gov. Schwarzenegger, is unpopular, etc. etc.

Joe is pretty much like the stopped clock that’s right twice a day, and this may be his hour. If the politics of the past is prologue, he is right — it will lose.

So what’s different? Joe points to “good government” and media support for Schwarzenegger’s Proposition 77 in the 2005 special election. But Prop 77 got caught in the maelstrom that sunk it along with the three other initiatives on the ballot. It did call for an immediate election in the new lines that was interpreted (by me among others), as an attempted Republican power grab. These problems will not plague the 2008 initiative.

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Why the Tenth Time could be the Charm

Tony Quinn
Editor, California Target Book

Joe Mathews is wrong. The fact the state Democratic Party opposes the November redistricting reform initiative does not automatically doom it – unless of course the proponents make the same mistakes that killed the last nine chances at reforming this arcane process.

The first four efforts at reform really dealt with changing the way the old county based State Senate was districted. That ended with the one person-one vote Supreme Court decisions of the 1960s.

The modern efforts at reform involve five initiatives sponsored by the Republicans, beginning in 1982. Each went down primarily because they forced the voters to make a partisan choice, and each time the voters said no; it is not my fight I don’t want to get involved. Most recently, in 2005, they voted down an initiative written by the conservative activist Ted Costa and funded by Gov. Schwarzenegger and Republicans. It called for an immediate redrawing of district lines, a move intended to help the GOP.

So how is the tenth time different? First, the genesis of the measure is not a political party nor a politician, but reform groups like Common Cause. For the first time, this initiative has significant bipartisan support, including Schwarzenegger and his predecessor Democratic Gov. Gray Davis. It can expect major editorial board and media support; the California media has kept up a drumbeat over the lack of choice in legislative elections.

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