State Treasurer Bill Lockyer, one of the most experienced and durable Democratic politicians in California, was the keynote speaker at the 2010 governor’s race post-mortem hosted by the Institute of Governmental Affairs at UC Berkeley. Here’s the text of his lucid prepared remarks, delivered Jan. 22, 2011 at the Hotel Shattuck Plaza in Berkeley.
By Bill Lockyer
Several years ago, Thomas Frank wrote a book titled “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” The book was Mr. Frank’s attempt to explain, from his admittedly liberal perspective, the American heartland’s attraction to conservatism.
After the 2010 elections, I would not be surprised to see a conservative writer pen a book entitled “What’s the Matter with California?” in an attempt to explain how and why the Republican tidal wave broke at the California border. It’s a question worthy of exploration.
Why were the California results so unique?
There was a Democratic sweep of every statewide constitutional office; there was not a single loss of a California congressional or Senate seat held by Democrats; and there was a pick up of one Democratic seat in the Assembly.
My explanation starts with one counter-intuitive fact: The California results were not the result of some hyped-up turnout in the Democratic base or of a depressed Republican turnout. An examination of the actual election results, as opposed to the exit polls or post-election polling, shows that the 2010 turnout in every demographic group were within a percentage or two of the 2006 turnout . . . with a few exceptions.
One interesting exception was 18-24 year-old voters, who turned out at a 6.4 percentage points higher level than in 2006. And 25-34 year-old voters also improved their turnout by 3.6 percent. At the same time, Republicans increased their overall turnout by 3.6 percentage points and DTS (decline to state) voter participation expanded by 3.4 percent.
Exit polls in other states do show varying degrees of higher turnout among Republican base voters along with some depressed numbers in the Democratic base. But, in California, we simply had a decent turnout among all voters.
So, if turnout doesn’t explain California’s Democratic exceptionalism, what does?
I believe California has a structural firewall that protected Democrats against the Republican “shellacking”.
Democrats continue to win substantial majorities of women, Latinos, African Americans, Asians, younger voters, gay and lesbian voters, coastal voters, liberals, and college educated voters. You combine that coalition with the majority of “moderate” and DTS voters who express their preference for Democratic candidates in almost every election and you have to ask: “Who the hell is left to vote for the Republicans?”
Simply answered, Republicans are the party of older white voters from inland California, a base too small to win in 21st Century California. These demographics have been with us for 20 years now and show no sign of changing.
This electoral reality deeply impacts how we govern in California. The shrinking Republican Party is so dominated by conservative voters that competitive Republican primaries damage Republican nominees who have to work their way through the litmus test minefield of taxes, immigration, abortion, gay rights, and the environment, and let’s not forget the “John and Ken primary ” test.
Remember, the most successful Republican candidate in recent years, Arnold Schwarzenegger, never ran in a competitive Republican Primary.
For Democrats, the challenge is not how we put together a successful campaign coalition, but how we govern successfully. And, for Democrats, at this moment in history the challenge of governing is how do we restore fiscal reality to our state budget and, at the same time, grow our state’s economy.
Democrats run for public office because we believe that government should play an active role in improving the lives of its citizens. Very few Democrats run for office because they want to shrink the size of government.
In 2011, and beyond, Democrats will have to defer their historic ideological mission for another time and accept the responsibility of cutting government spending now. This duty will inevitably put a Democratic governor, Democratic constitutional officers, and a Democratic legislature at odds with some Democratic constituencies and interest groups.
And, these Democratic elected officials cannot shrink from this responsibility.
California voters overwhelmingly have chosen Democrats to lead them out of this economic crisis and, if we fail, the political consequences in future elections will be profound.
Gov. Brown has opened this debate by coming forward with an honest budget based on real numbers, free of phony accounting gimmicks. Its basic premise is that half of the answer to erasing the deficit should come from cuts in spending and half should come by extending taxes that are scheduled to expire. This is both sound policy and good politics.
As political leaders and as voters, if we do not support and follow this path and close our budget deficit, the consequences will be profound and Draconian.
The question is: How does our legislature respond?
Our inability to create bi-partisan compromises in our state’s budget has resulted in an endless shell game that has mired California in a persistent and ever-growing budget deficit. Too often the expedient has trumped the prudent.
Democrats must prove that they are willing to make substantial cuts in government spending to have credibility in this debate with voters and with Republican colleagues. The fact is that voters are likely to reject (again) the governor’s call to extend expiring taxes unless they see real budget cuts passed by the legislature.
Republicans must begin to participate fully in the governing of California and Democrats should welcome their participation. If Republicans fail in their responsibility, they will continue to be a shrinking minority party.
Republicans must negotiate with the governor and their Democratic colleagues in good faith and take the litmus tests off the table. This will begin to make the Republican Party relevant to the future of California.
To my Republican friends, I ask a simple question: “What good has all the political posturing done for the Republican Party?” When you can’t make political progress in California during a national Republican landslide, it is time to try a new approach.
When Grover Norquist, a professional anti-tax activist based in D.C., demands every California Republican legislator sign a no tax pledge, a pledge that he insists includes denying the people the right to vote on the path forward, we really are in the Twilight Zone.
If Republicans are hostages to their litmus test politics, they won’t be at the table that works out the budget fix. Republican voices and ideas will not be a part of the solution.
Now, let’s talk about the “elephant” in the room. Democrats cannot expect Republicans to commit political suicide in order to pass a budget. That is why Democrats must be prepared to negotiate with Republicans on spending cuts that last as long as the tax hike extensions. Should either party come out of budget negotiations declaring victory, California will be the loser.
Democrats and Republicans can choose another way. Together, we can turn California around.
Fifty years ago this week, in his 1961 inaugural address, John F. Kennedy spoke words, in another context, that apply to this day and this time.
“United, there is little we cannot do. Divided, there is little we can do.”