End Republican Party Obstructionism: Follow the California Model

Posted in: Politics

Republican obstructionism is once again controlling Washington.  The GOP refuses to negotiate—other than on their own terms—regarding the “sequester crisis” with its thoughtless spending cuts, which have been imposed on the nation notwithstanding what will likely be a disastrous impact on our economy, if not a danger to our national security.

At least the GOP is consistent.  During the first four years of the Obama presidency, Republicans opposed everything, and after the 2010 mid-term election, when they regained control of the House of Representatives, this opposition turned into blanket obstructionism.  Still, President Obama was overwhelmingly reelected and campaigned on adopting a balanced revenue-raising and spending-cut approach to our fiscal problems, given our recovering economy after Bush II’s tax cuts and his unfunded and unnecessary wars.  Yet the GOP Congressional minority has refused to allow the President to implement the policies on which he was elected, and which are much needed to get Americans working again.

Those of us who live in California have seen the Republicans play this game at the state level, year after year, because California required a two-thirds majority to enact a simple budget, which enabled the GOP to obstruct the Democratic majority in running the state. Republicans’ refusal to pass budgets almost destroyed the California state government, at one point even preventing the state from issuing checks and requiring that temporary IOU vouchers be substituted to pay state employees and contractors.

Now, the Republican Party is over in California.  Before Republicans do more similar damage to the nation, others should study the California example.  While I am no expert on these matters, I am very aware of the gist of what occurred.

California Dreaming

Bodybuilder and actor Arnold Schwarzenegger had long been interested in politics, but as a moderate Republican (then still married to a prominent Democrat) in a state with a hard-right Republican base, he could not get nominated by the Republicans as dog-catcher.  However, when the recall election of Democratic Governor Gray Davis succeeded, it meant that Arnold could fulfill his dream, because he could run for governor in an open race, where he won because of his high name recognition.

When Arnold arrived in Sacramento (I know this from an informed Republican friend), he held serious but private talks with the conservative leaders who control the GOP in California, much as they do nationally. He hoped to try to get them to agree to a balanced approach to governing with some tax hikes and spending cuts, but they only wanted spending cuts, with no new taxes whatsoever.  He urged them to back off their war on women with its demands to end abortions in California, but they refused. He asked if they would support programs to improve education and healthcare, but the GOP leaders refused to consider anything other than slashing and dismantling existing programs, and cutting taxes. (Sound familiar?)

The new governor warned the GOP leaders—based on the evidence that his campaign advisers had gathered during his race—that the voter demographics were changing in California, and that the GOP could not win in the future with only aging white voters, but the GOP leaders had no interest in addressing immigration, or trying to attract other minorities to their party. To the contrary, they wanted to push for another version of the infamous anti-immigrant Proposition 187 that has resulted in several generations of immigrants (so far) turning away from the California GOP.

Although Arnold won the governorship with two landslide victories (in 2003, and 2006) his tenure as governor was anything but the dream he had hoped for when running California. To the contrary, because the GOP has moved so far right, he accomplished almost nothing, other than allowing the state to slip into increasing fiscal peril with a $26 billion budget deficit.

By 2010, former two-term governor Jerry Brown decided someone had to save this state, so he mounted a modestly-financed campaigned against the winner of the GOP primary, Meg Whitman, who carried so much GOP baggage into the general election that even spending $180 million (of mostly her own money) could not prevent her from being crushed by Brown.  But Brown, in turn, could not have won without a reinvigorated Democratic Party, the support of labor unions, and the vigor of a determined progressive movement, each pursing their own efforts, and flexing their muscle to end GOP obstructionism.

Shrink-Wrapping California Republicans

As a remarkably well-honed politician, and skillful Sacramento operator, Jerry Brown was able to announced in January 2013 that he had fixed the state’s crushing $26 billion budget deficit, and had the state back on sound fiscal footing. Brown had gone directly to California voters in November 2012, vigorously campaigning for a number of important propositions, which were approved by voters, including raises of income taxes on the wealthy, and on sales taxes for everybody, generating an estimated $5.6 billion.  More importantly, in November 2012, California voters also ended Republican obstructionism by voting that party out of power, and giving the Democrats a supermajority.

Heading into the 2012 elections, California had some 23,707,446 people eligible to vote, with 71.87 percent registered, or a total of 17,037,414 potential voters.  The affiliation breakdown of these registered voters reflected several years of efforts by Democratic organizers, labor unions, and progressives to put the GOP out of the obstruction business: 43.5 percent were registered as Democrats, 30.3 percent were registered as Republicans, 21.3 percent registered with No Party Preference, and 4.9 percent were affiliated with other political parties. Because of the ongoing efforts of these organizers, there has been a continuing decline in GOP registration, as the census data showed. At present, I understand that Republican registration is continuing to shrink, and is now at only 29.3 percent of all registered voters.

Today, there are no statewide Republican officials in California.  Democrats control both houses of the California Assembly, as well as the governorship.  California now has an opportunity to show how the Democratic Party, supported by labor and progressive independents, can govern. The GOP is now irrelevant in California. This did not happened by accident, so there are lessons here for dealing with national GOP obstructionism as well.

How Democrats, Labor, And Progressives, Made The GOP Irrelevant In California

Those on the front line of the efforts to end GOP obstructionism in California have discussed this subject, as well as its application nationally.  For example, Robert Cruickshank, who writes on California politics from a progressive viewpoint, found a loose coalition of California Democrats, labor unions, and progressives (including individuals, organizations, websites and blogs, like Calitics, where Cruickshank first posted his piece on “What California Can Teach America About Stopping Extremist Obstruction”) who realized that they first had to expand the electorate. So they sought out people of color and low-income individuals, people with progressive values who had been ignored.

Their registration drives (over the years 2007 to 2010) resulted in California not contributing to the national GOP victory sweep in 2010, as well as putting Jerry Brown in the Governor’s Office with a 13-point victory margin.  Equally important, these efforts resulted in the passage of Prop 25, which enabled the passage of new state budgets with a simple majority, ending gridlock.  In addition, voters killed the GOP’s anti-union efforts in Prop 32, and enacted the tax increase in Prop 30 that I mentioned earlier.

Some progressives initially feared the Citizens Redistricting Commission, but it turned out that the Commission fairly and honestly drew the lines of voting districts within California, in a fashion that truly represented the population. And, in the process, they removed the Republican-protecting gerrymandered districts that had existed for twenty years. The non-partisan Commission leveled the playing field.

Cruickshank reports that ending GOP obstruction in California was a five-point process: (1) Mass organizing effort to expand the electorate; (2) Ending the supermajority procedural rules of the Assembly; (3) Making voting easier via online registration and voting by mail; (4) ending gerrymandering; and (5) clearly identifying the problem: GOP obstructionism.

California Democrat David Atkins, who helped win this fight in California, pointed out in Digby’s Hullabaloo earlier this year, that he believes that the same tools can be used by Democrats everywhere.  I believe that he is correct.  I have slightly tweaked his list, and eliminated those measures that would require amending the Constitution.  But his list would be a remarkable beginning: (1) Eliminate gerrymandered Congressional districts (which could be done with lawsuits); (2) End the Senate’s dysfunctional filibuster rules (which should have been done earlier, but Democrats got suckered again by Republicans); (3) Adjust corrupt lobbying laws that now unduly favor former members of Congress working for special interests; (4) Aggressively test and re-test the Supreme Court’s Citizen United ruling (Democrats should do to this ruling what Republicans have done to Roe v. Wade); (5) Fix the archaic Electoral College rules by having all states adopt the National Popular Vote (NPV) provisions that have now been approved by nine states; and adopt federal laws regarding election rules that states must follow in all federal election—and if states play games with these rules, impose federal laws, which are Constitutionally-empowered. (Vikram Amar has written on the NPV movement several times here on Justia’s Verdict. His most recent commentary will be posted on this site on March 15.)

California’s Tradition of Political Trend-Setting    

California has long been considered a political trend-setting state, regardless of whether the state has had a Republican or Democratic as governor at a given time. Hopefully, its success in dealing with Republican obstructionism can serve as a model for the nation, and maybe even set a trend.  While California has not solved all its problems—no government ever can—at least it has eliminated one, and it is the same problem that Republicans in Washington are now imposing on every American.

Radical crackpots—yes, those are the correct words—control today’s Republican Party.  They want to destroy government, not govern.

Karl Rove recently journeyed to California to lecture the Republicans on how to rebuild. Probably the most important advice he gave them: “Get off your ass.”  They will; they always do. So Democrats must do the same, and end GOP obstructionism before the GOP ruins the country with their misguided—indeed, crazed—ideology.  California has shown how to do it, and why.

Posted in: Politics