It was lawbreaking, both proven and alleged, that ended the Democrats’ supermajority in the state Senate. Republicans and their efforts had nothing to do with it. Until state Sens. Roderick Wright of Los Angeles, Ron Calderon of Montebello and Leland Yee of San Francisco encountered serious legal problems, Democrats had more than two-thirds of the seats in both houses of the Legislature for almost the first time ever.
The party also holds all statewide offices today, from governor and U.S. senator down through the treasurer’s slot, and the mayor’s office in all but one of the state’s four largest cities. That’s more of a stranglehold on California politics than any party has ever enjoyed.
And it appears that almost no matter what Democrats do, they will continue to enjoy such dominance for years to come.
This seems assured not just by voter registration figures, which grow worse and worse for Republicans. It’s also due to demographic trends than can be seen on the national level.
Sure, the registration figures look plenty bad for the GOP as it strives to break the Democratic lock on California public life.
Between the beginning of 2010 and mid-2014, as population grew by an estimated 2 million, Republican voter registration actually dropped by 121,000. The percentage drop seemed a tad more significant, falling from 30.75 percent of all voters to 28.73 percent before rebounding to just over 30 percent again. During the same time span, Democratic registration increased by more than 150,000 persons, even as the party’s percentage of registrants fell by about 1 percent, from 44.62 percent to 43.58 percent.
Where did the missing Republicans go, along with many new voters who in previous decades might have signed up as either Democrats or Republicans? It appears most joined the growing ranks of independents, choosing not to affiliate with either party, and even more joined small splinter parties. Registration figures for people with no party preference grew by 286,000 during those four-plus years, the percentage of voters opting not to declare party loyalty rising about 1 percent. Another 303,000 signed up with miscellaneous smaller parties.
This trend portends no good for Republicans, who did not even enter significant candidates in several legislative and congressional primary election races.
But the GOP’s problems go even deeper. As California’s population becomes ever more urban, centering in the metropolitan areas around Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego and Orange County, Democrats keep gaining ground.
One study of voter registration in America’s 3,144 counties indicated what California analysts already knew: Democrats are from cities, Republicans from the ex-urbs – suburban or rural areas. This was already true in 1988, starting date for that study, but it’s even truer today.
Los Angeles led the 25 top counties for Democratic voter pickups, gaining 1.2 million Democratic voters in the last 25 years. Orange and San Diego counties are also among the top ten counties for Democratic voter growth, one reason politics has become more competitive over the last 10 years or so in those reputed Republican bastions.
Meanwhile, there were no California counties among the top 25 for Republican voter gains during the last quarter century. So as California and the nation become more urban and less countrified and suburban, Democratic margins tend to go up.
Add this trend to the well-documented increases in Latino voters (which account for much of the Democratic increases in Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties) and you get a bleak picture for Republicans.
Is the California GOP completely without hope? Chances are, not even corruption will reduce the Democratic legislative majorities by much. But Republicans still do have a shot at statewide offices, if they run appealing candidates, as demonstrated by Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2003 and 2006.
Even much more conservative candidates than he can win if some ethnic groups should become turned off to Democratic candidates and attracted to GOP ones, or just lose their motivation to vote, while mostly-white GOP voters turn out in big numbers.
Which makes California the Democrats’ to lose, for the foreseeable future.