I recently had the opportunity to visit California’s State Assembly and watch the legislature in action. I think this opportunity provided me a deeper understanding of the problem ailing California politics.
The first thing to know is that, if you’re a Republican legislator in California, you are always, always losing. The Democratic Party always sets the agenda. Then a Democratic Assemblyman will introduce a bill. Sometimes the bill is uncontroversial – something like National Mitochrondria Day. Other times the bill is heatedly partisan.
When the bill is partisan, the Republicans will stand up and argue against it. They will be heated. They will be angry – indeed, Republican legislators generally have a much angrier tone than their Democratic counterparts. They will talk about how the Constitution is being violated, how America’s Founding Fathers would look aghast at the bill, how America is a country of liberty, and how the bill is infringing upon America’s freedoms.
And then, when voting time comes, the Republicans lose. The bill they so hate inevitably passes. This is because California is a Democratic state, and the Democrats therefore have a majority. The result is that day in, day out Republicans are losing. They lose every single time. They spend every single minute in the legislature losing.
Except on one issue. California, you see, requires a two-thirds majority to raise taxes (and, until recently, to pass the budget). There are barely enough Republicans in the chamber to deny Democrats the two-thirds majority.
So here, on this one issue, a Republican legislator can win. And what an important issue! Taxes and budgets, after all, are the most important priority for any state.
The California Republican Party blankly refuses to allow tax increases of any kind. Not a dollar, not a dime, not a cent. It never, ever cooperates with the Democratic Party.
It probably feels very good, too, for Republican legislators so tired of losing all the time. How immensely satisfying it must feel for a California Republican legislator to win a victory. Republicans can even tell themselves that they’re doing the state good, since high taxes are of course what’s ruining California.
What’s really hurting California, however, is the legislative gridlock that results from the Republican Party’s refusal to compromise. The party knows that California is a Democratic stronghold, so it will never hold power. But because California requires a two-thirds majority to raise taxes (and, until recently, pass a budget), Republicans can be hostage-takers. That is essentially the only role that California’s Republican Party has.
Eventually the Democratic Party will gain the necessary two-thirds majority. They are already very close, and California is trending left. Then Republicans will truly have no power. One hopes that will provide them enough incentive to change their ideology and politicians in a way that garners more support from California’s diverse population. Otherwise, the party will wither away into nothingness.