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A New Definition for California’s Political Sweet Spot

Monday, June 11th, 2018

venn2California voters demonstrated anew last week that the state has developed a special brand of democratic epistemology – mas o menos liberalism — that has been shaped by Propositions 13 and 187; Ronald Reagan and  Edmund Browns Sr. and Jr.; the Santa Barbara oil spill; Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers; the Free Speech Movement and Watts riot, not to mention the institution of Dianne Feinstein.

Voters most of the time will cluster somewhere around the candidates who seem to fit the sensible, moderate-left world view that comprises the overlap or union, of California’s political Venn diagram: pro-choice, environment friendly, fiscally responsible, anti-authoritarian, racially and religiously tolerant, committed to science and faith.

This, of course, is the middle of the stream that Jerry Brown famously advocated in his paddle on the left, paddle on the right aphorism years ago.

Finding Middle Ground. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Attorney Gen. Xavier Becerra, Secretary of State Alex Padilla, Controller Betty Yee, former Ambassador Eleni Kounalakis and State Sen. Ed Hernandez all are California mas o menos liberals – some more, some less left than others, but none out on the wingnut fringe.

And as our friend Paul Rogers sharply observed, the statewide affinity for environmental protection and conservation won throughout California as well, further underscoring voters’ sense of what is good for the Golden State.

poiznerEven in the race for Insurance Commissioner – perhaps the most overlooked contest on last Tuesday’s ballot – the finalists, who differ sharply on support for single-payer health care, are essentially centrists – mas or menos.

Steve Poizner (menos), who held the job before as a Republican before losing the GOP governor’s nomination to Meg Whitman in 2010, ran and won this time as an independent, who opposes single-payer health insurance. Whether his immigrant-bashing in the governor’s race overshadows his new pledge of independence, remains to be seen. State Sen. Richard Lara (mas), a fierce advocate for single-payer healthcare, is openly-gay and endorsed by virtually every living Democrat.

A lot will depend on how much of his personal fortune Poizner decides to spend. But however the race is resolved in November, by becoming the first independent to truly have a chance of winning a statewide constitutional office (our friend Dan Schnur never had the money), Poizner has demonstrated that there still might be hope for right-of-center politicians in California, as Calbuzz has argued since 2010.

In the race for Superintendent of Public Instruction, Marshall Tuck, a staunch charter school advocate, will face off against Tony Thurmond, a pro-teachers union candidate in a race that either could win. But this kind of  polarization is an exception in a competitive statewide contest.

Thanks to hard work behind the scenes by some state and national operatives, Democrats, who seemed poised to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, will have competitive candidates in virtually all of the seven GOP congressional districts that Hillary Clinton carried in 2016. Some are more competitive than others, but most seem to have learned the lesson of Georgia and Pennsylvania: that winning a federal race in a marginal district demands a campaign focused on issues of concern to the men and women in their districts without excessive attention to the potential impeachment of Donald Trump.

Across the country as well — where California’s example is often a model — voters seemed more comfortable with the calm-but-determined regular Democrats than they were with Berniecract progressives, as Michael Tomasky of the Daily Beast wrote in the New York Times:

But the results prove that the conventional story line about the Democrats charging damn the torpedoes to the left is overstated…

For now, though, the only real candidates are congressional ones, and they are a mixed lot, reflecting the point — which I never tire of making, because some people seem not to want to accept it — that while the Republicans can gain a House majority with only conservatives, the Democrats can’t do so with only liberals. There simply aren’t enough liberal districts or voters.

Here’s hoping the Dem presidential wannabes take heed.