Political Animal


January 28, 2013 4:20 PM California Model

By Ed Kilgore

Way back in the day, it used to be common-place for progressives to identify California as a national political trend-setter. More recently, it’s been the Right that’s most often pointed to the Golden State as teaching important national lessons: how to become Greece, mainly.

But now, after an unusually fruitful election for California Democrats and the startling advent of a balanced (or some would say near-balanced) state budget, the state is again looking golden for progressives. And in a solid article on California’s political and budgetary transformation for TNR, David Dayen draws the possible implications for Democrats dealing with obstructionist conservatives in Congress very directly:

[Y]ou can see in California’s experience a path for dealing with the current woes in Washington. California was held hostage by a conservative minority demanding unpopular concessions to end manufactured crises. Progressives fought their way out of this box by taking away the tools of minority obstruction, and empowering marginalized communities to use their vote, expanding the progressive base. National Democrats reducing minority obstruction through actions like filibuster reform, and increasing engagement among infrequent voters (particularly in non-Presidential election cycles), could accomplish similar goals.

True, though we seem to be a long way from the point where even Senate Democrats are willing to undertake serious filibuster reform. The very composition of the Senate, enshrined in the Constitution, which gives smaller states disproportionate power, is a factor states don’t have to deal with. And there’s no federal equivalent to the ballot initiative avenue which California progressives have again begun to master.

Still, Dayen is making a legitimate point. Until this last year, it appeared the stranglehold a conservative GOP had on California’s fiscal policies might never be broken. Now Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown has all but replaced the GOP as the fiscally conservative sparring partner of a left-leaning Democratic legislature. Perhaps this is the kind of “annihilation” national Republicans fear.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • c u n d gulag on January 28, 2013 4:29 PM:

    So, while President Obama has been trying to undo Reagan's and Republicans national legacy of fiscal idiocy, Governor Brown has started to succeed in undoing Reagan's and Republicans California legacy of fiscal irresponsibility.

    Yes, THIS is what the Conservatives fear most of all!

    A thriving California, and an accendant America, all due to more Liberal and Progressive policies.

    Right now, they're doubling down on their prayers for an epic terrorist attack, to hang around the neck of President Obama.
    And, if it happens in California, so much the better!!!

  • gab on January 28, 2013 6:45 PM:

    "Piece by piece, reformers started to dismantle these obstacles, using the state’s ballot initiative process. In 2008, voters approved an independent redistricting commission to break the incumbency protection racket and make the legislature look more like the electorate."

    Keep in mind, this was a Schwarzenegger-backed initiative. The thinking was that Republicans would benefit from a citizen's redistricting commission that was not influenced by poltitical considerations.

    Unfortunately for them, there were a helluva lot more Democrats spread around California than they thought, and now the Republicans can't even win a third of the Assembly and Senate.

  • jjm on January 28, 2013 8:16 PM:

    California is on the way back from the depredations of Reaganism!

    Funny how the rest of the nation never seemed to notice the truly ugly face Reagan showed California, the wrecking ball he took to our educational system here, and the generally mean-spiritedness he injected into political discourse. To the nation, he was touted as a 'nice man.' Not here. We remember!

    And we love Jerry!

  • dweb on January 29, 2013 7:32 AM:

    For all their braying about "free markets" and claims that they are fighting for the rights of voters "to be heard," and "to make their opinion count," NEVER forget that the California GOP steadfastly blocked a public referendum on whether or not the voters were willing to extend a series of taxes about to expire and subject themselves to a slight increase in the sales tax.

    Finally, Gov. Brown launched the vote through the proposition process. The GOP fought that proposition tooth and nail and at one point, a gusher of secret super PAC money was routed into the state via two steps from Arizona to help the opposition effort.

    But it passed.....and in so doing, it did what the GOP most feared....demonstrated that informed voters were not automatons fixated only on cutting taxes, but understood that government has a role in matters of infrastructure, health, education, the environment and public safety.

    We need more of these efforts nationwide. Grover Norquist is an idiot!