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Election shows state’s true colors: pastel

THIS is not a deep blue state, regardless of recent presidential elections. Color us light blue, if you must.

California voters reconfirmed what they’re all about Tuesday, and it is not the image normally envisaged by outsiders.

Currently, and over the long haul, we’re centrists. Sure, we’ve voted for the Democratic candidate in the last four presidential races. But in the previous 10 elections, we voted nine times for the Republican. Each of those contests had its own dynamic, but party label was the least of it. This state never has been and is not now solidly Democratic.

Put up former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani or Arizona Sen. John McCain as the GOP nominee in 2008 and watch the pendulum begin to swing.

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Three of the last four governors have been Republicans. And the lone Democrat was fired by voters.

Yes, the two U.S. senators are Democrats, but the one just reelected by a landslide -- Sen. Dianne Feinstein -- is very much a moderate.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s overwhelming reelection victory is Exhibit A of California centrism. The governor ran as a typical state voter: anti-tax, fiscally prudent, pro-environment and left-leaning on social issues like abortion. He was supported by 57% of moderates, a Times exit poll found. That pretty much mirrored his overall vote, about 56%.

This state is not consistently liberal and, except on certain issues, definitely isn’t conservative. All the conservatives running for statewide office were rejected by voters.

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The one GOP victor, besides Schwarzenegger, was insurance commissioner candidate Steve Poizner, who ran as a moderate. True, his opponent, Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, was spoiled goods because of past campaign-funding sleaze. And Poizner, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, was rich enough to finance his own campaign. But Poizner’s centrism puts him on the list of potential governors.

“In my view, this is the end of the conservative Republican statewide in California,” says Tony Quinn, a Republican and co-editor of the Target Book, which monitors political races. “As long as the grass grows and the wind blows, we will never see another one of them elected statewide.”

I wouldn’t go that far. There must be a Ronald Reagan out there somewhere.

But Quinn’s point, buttressed by Tuesday’s election, is that “voters of this state have made it pretty clear. They won’t go to the far left or to the far right.”

Neither to Democrat Phil Angelides for governor nor to Republican Tom McClintock for lieutenant governor.

But Republican moderate Bruce McPherson was ousted as secretary of state by Democratic Sen. Debra Bowen of Marina del Rey, a left-leaner. Credit the national Democratic wave, although it reached California merely as a ripple.

The weak wave had its biggest impact in the asparagus, delta and windmill country between Stockton and the East Bay. There, conservative GOP Congressman Richard Pombo was beaten by liberal Democratic windmill consultant Jerry McNerney. Pombo chairs the House Resources Committee. Voters decided they’d had enough of his anti-environmentalism and questionable ethics, not to mention President Bush’s botched war.

The reason there weren’t more “had enough” messages sent to Washington from California was that the Legislature had erected a breakwater called district gerrymandering to protect incumbents from any political wave.

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Actually, Californians already held their own “had enough” election three years ago by yanking Democrat Gray Davis and installing Republican Schwarzenegger.

When Schwarzenegger veered out of control to the right, voters last year ordered a course correction. The governor obliged, scurrying back to the center and working in a bipartisan, productive manner with Democratic legislators. California’s message to Sacramento on Tuesday, unlike the nation’s to Washington, was: Stay the course.

You can find more evidence of California’s moderate mosaic in the ballot measure results. Depending on the issue, voters listed left or right, but averaged out in the middle.

We’re pro-environment, passing Proposition 84, a $5.4-billion water/parks bond issue. (Pombo paid the price for trying to gut the Endangered Species Act, among other anti-environment antics.)

But environmentalism can be trumped by California’s anti-tax attitude. Voters rejected Prop. 87, to finance development of alternative energy by taxing oil production. (The losers ought to stop whining about being outspent by “big oil.” They had $60 million, which should be enough to sell any ballot prop.) In fact, all four tax measures on the ballot were rejected, even the proposal to hike cigarette taxes to pay for healthcare.

Californians don’t mind borrowing, however. They authorized $42.7 billion in bonds, including $37 billion in public works proposed by the governor and Legislature. The message to Sacramento: We’ll follow when you get your act together and lead.

We’re sometimes liberal, rejecting -- for the second straight year -- an initiative to require parental notification before a minor can obtain an abortion.

But we’re conservative on law and order, placing residency restrictions and GPS tracking devices on paroled sexual predators.

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“This is not a liberal state, it is a libertarian state,” says Democratic consultant Darry Sragow. “Basically, its about Western American values.”

So spare us all the “left coast” yuk yuks. And recolor the red/blue maps.

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George Skelton writes Monday and Thursday. Reach him at george.skelton@latimes.com.


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