The bluest of states


With Kamala Harris’ victory in the state attorney general’s race — a win she intends to make official Tuesday — California Democrats have defied national trends and achieved a historic milestone. For the first time since at least the 1930s, one party controls both houses of the Legislature and every one of the state’s constitutional offices.

That presents Democrats with an extraordinary opportunity, as well as a formidable responsibility. Without help or hindrance from the state’s Republicans, except in one crucial area, Democrats may fashion a government that advances their agenda. Environmental protection, jobs, healthcare — all mainstays of Democratic politics nationally — may find tough sledding in Washington, where the House is in Republican hands and the Senate includes enough Republicans to filibuster the Democratic agenda. Here in California, however, the moribund Republican Party offers little in the way of resistance. Moreover, a few issues that animate Californians in particular now have unrivaled champions in Sacramento: Same-sex marriage, prison reform and green energy, to name just three, enjoy an opposition-free landscape in the nation’s largest state.

With that, of course, comes the responsibility to deliver. Another session of aimless legislating and missed budget deadlines, of caving in to police unions on official secrecy or doling out sweetheart contracts to prison guards, and this time the blame will fall unmistakably on California’s ruling party. Gov.-elect Jerry Brown has never been a mainstream member of his party, but he has a chance now to lead it forward.


Republicans do hold onto one significant tool, however. Although voters approved Proposition 25, which reduced the legislative votes required to enact a budget from two-thirds to a simple majority, they also made it more difficult to raise fees. As a result, any tax or fee increase still requires two-thirds of the Legislature, and Republicans control just enough seats to hold that line. The power to obstruct has been the California GOP’s most potent weapon in recent years, and though repeated use of it is partly responsible for the party’s long trip to the wilderness, Republican leaders show no immediate signs of coming to their senses. Democrats thus cannot count on a sudden burst of cooperation from a party that has devoted much energy to blocking budgets and closing programs rather than compromising on fees and taxes.

With that exception, Democratic leaders in Sacramento hold all political cards for the moment, but they should regard that as an opportunity, not a permanent state of being. The party has been aided in recent years by strong support from Latinos — in part the long aftermath of Gov. Pete Wilson’s perceived slights against that group — as well as a remarkable run of extremist and inexperienced Republican candidates. All that can change, however. Memories of Proposition 187 will fade. State Republicans will someday field a decent set of moderate candidates; Republican legislators may even recognize that voters want constructive change rather than an organized blockade.

When they do, Democrats who lack a record of achievement could face the same wrath that many of their counterparts nationally already have felt. This is their opportunity — to produce or to squander.