Last spring, the Democrats in California seemed to have it all. Every statewide elected office featured a Dem; the grass roots were harassing dinosaur GOP members of Congress at town halls and at their offices, pushing some into early retirement and putting those seats into play for the midterms. Liberals nationwide looked to Gov. Jerry Brown and Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra for inspiration and ideas about how to mount a legal resistance against Donald Trump.
Most important, the party held a supermajority in both the state Assembly and Senate. With that power, they dreamed of a thousand-year reign. And then, of course, they messed it all up. After #MeToo brought down a couple of lawmakers who were accused of sexual misconduct, the Democrats temporarily lost their supermajority in the Assembly. They regained the lower house, but the Senate supermajority is gone, too, because of the chronic hubris that always seems to plague liberals in control.
See, Brown and the Democratic Legislature thought for some reason that what California needed more than anything — more than solutions to homelessness or wage inequity — was a gas tax and increased fees at the Department of Motor Vehicles. The ostensible reason was to use funds gathered from such a bill to fix our beat-up highways and byways. Fair enough.
But the Dems must’ve been stoned with power if they actually thought people want to pay more at the pump. Most likely, they were arrogant enough to figure that ill will would dissipate quickly.
That’s where the California Republican Party stepped in.
Sure, the state’s GOP has relegated itself to afterthought status. But Republicans still know how to tap into voter discontent with Sacramento, which allows them to deliver stinging counterpunches every once in a while.
They’re already tossing haymakers. Last month, voters in north Orange County recalled freshman State Sen. Josh Newman, targeted because he sided with the gas tax bill that passed by just one vote. His loss broke the Senate supermajority, and helped conservatives statewide gather enough signatures to place Proposition 6 on the November ballot, which would repeal the tax. The national GOP hopes to use public anger on the measure to drive up turnout and prevent the Dems from taking over Congress.
All of this because the Democrats thought they could get away with anything.
You’d think that party leaders would’ve learned by now not to poke Republicans too hard. But it’s their cluelessness that keeps the GOP semi-relevant in California and prevents Democrats from implementing a true progressive paradise.
History has shown that when California Democrats push their ideas too far and too fast, the GOP becomes more rabid than Cujo. Look at the revolt led by Orange County cities against California’s “sanctuary state” policies. Ask then-Gov. Gray Davis, who arguably sealed the fate of his recall last decade when he signed Senate Bill 60, which allowed immigrants in the U.S. illegally to receive driver’s licenses. Or the authors of Proposition 8, which passed in part because of the glee that then-San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom took in trolling opponents of marriage equality.
More examples? The school busing controversies of the 1970s — decided by courts, but endorsed by Democratic politicians — led parents to push for private and charter schools that have undermined public schools ever since.
You can even go all the way back to the 1960s and the Rumford Fair Housing Act, which banned housing discrimination based on race or ethnicity. Nowadays, only the fringe of society would have a problem with that — but this was 1960s California, which was as wack-job conservative then as Oklahoma is today. Voter anger led to the passage in 1964 of Proposition 14, which repealed the Rumford Act, and helped Ronald Reagan defeat Gov. Pat Brown two years later.
And we know how far Reagan went based off of those emboldened GOP voters.
Liberals should push their agenda, because they almost always end up on the right side of history. But it’s smarter to win by slowly heating the water instead of throwing conservative voters into a boiling pot. Consider SB 60. After it ruined Davis’ career, Dems let the issue largely fly under the radar for more than a decade. During that time, Californians largely accepted that immigrants in the U.S. illegally weren’t going anywhere. And once SB 60 actually went into effect at the beginning of 2015, there was little backlash and no political heat for any Democrats — the opposite of what happened with the gas tax.
I wrote earlier this year about the dangers of California as a one-party state. Democrats need to realize that not everyone in the state is a card-carrying leftist, and try to convince others that they want to govern for everyone, not just the faithful.
By imposing diktats on the red parts of our state and dismissing Republicans as nuisances instead of a part of American democracy, Democrats create an opening for the worst parts of the GOP to roar back from irrelevancy and make life miserable for the rest of us.
Don’t believe me? Just look at the White House.