How did California go from voting for George H.W. Bush in 1988 to a state where Republicans are now essentially a larger third party, in about 25 years?
There are two simple answers: Governor Pete Wilson, and demographics.
As Wilson sought re-election in 1994, he championed Proposition 187, also known as Save Our State (SOS). The ballot measure sought to ban all undocumented immigrants from accessing any public services funded by the state, and it passed overwhelmingly as the Republican governor was easily re-elected.
“Following Prop. 187 were additional anti-immigrant measures such as Prop. 209 and Prop. 227 that proposed to outlaw affirmative action and bilingual education,” notes Latino Decision’s Matt Barreto. These measures also passed.
California in the mid 1990s was beginning a demographic shift that’s an exaggerated version of what the entire nation is about to go through over the next few decades. Though that shift happened quickly, Republicans were still able to win the governorship twice after a freak recall gave them a chance to run international celebrity/moderate Arnold Schwarzenegger.
But in 2010, as the nation was experiencing the largest Republican wave election in more than a half-century, California went bright blue, possibly permanently.
Democratic governor Jerry Brown came into power with reforms that gave his party a chance to overwhelm the Republican minority obstruction that paralyzed the state legislature and helped build up a deficit of as high as $42 billion. Today, the budget is nearly balanced and possibly in surplus, depending on whose numbers you trust.
In one generation, “The Prop 187 Effect” transformed California’s politics:
Immigration reform was the one policy recommendation in the GOP’s “autopsy” of the 2012 election. It passed the Senate with about as large a bipartisan majority as you can expect these days.
But most observers are saying that immigration reform is now effectively dead — or on life support — after Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) announced on Wednesday, “We have no intention of ever going to conference on the Senate bill.” This follows reports that the House will not vote on reform this year because they don’t have time, even though the Senate bill passed in June.
As the Hispanic media is well aware, the only immigration bill that will have passed the House in 2013 is one that calls for millions of deportations.
House Republicans, like California’s Republicans in the 90s, know that taking a tough anti-immigrant stance in the short term won’t hurt them. In fact, it may even help them in the 2014 election, or at least avoid primary challenges.
But the long-term effects of punting on the best hope for immigration reform in decades could doom Republicans with the nation’s fastest-growing group of voters. Here’s five reasons why this should terrify the GOP.
Losing The Latino Vote Forever
More than 70 percent of California’s Latino population has been voting Democratic since the mid-90s. By simply maintaining that trend, Democrats have gone from winning slim majorities in the state to landslides.
The scariest thing for Republicans is how the share of the vote the Democratic nominee captured in the Golden State — 74 percent in 2008 and 78 percent in 2012 — closely matched the share of the Latino vote President Obama won nationally.
“If the election was partly about the role of government in American life, Chicago was betting that Latinos favored a big role,” Jonathan Alter wrote in his book The Center Holds, and the Obama campaign was right.
Simply maintaining these percentages will create an electoral nightmare for the GOP as the size of the Latino electorate is expected to double again by 2030. Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico are all battleground states that have become blue in recent presidential elections. With 80 percent of Latinos supporting legalization for undocumented immigrants, the key state of Florida may become a lost cause for Republicans as Arizona turns purple.
The good news for Republicans is that even in California, the GOP gets between 20 and 30 percent of the Latino vote, which is about double its share of the African-American vote. The bad news is that it could get worse.
Losing The Youth Vote, Too
“The collision between ethnicity and age is even more lethal,” The Los Angeles Times‘ Cathleen Decker wrote in a analysis of a recent USC/Los Angeles Times poll. “Six in 10 white voters are over 50, making them prized in the present, but not dependable in future decades. The reverse is true for Latinos, 64 percent of whom are age 49 or younger.” Only 23 percent of voters under 50 in the state are Republican.
College Republicans issued a report earlier this year that examined the future of the party. The basic finding: Give up on the social stuff and focus on the economy. But this is nearly impossible as evangelicals make up a huge chunk of the voters most likely to show up for a GOP primary.
Conservatives have long argued that the Latino connection to the Catholic Church would drive the community to vote Republican. This has never really panned out for practical reasons.
“Seventy-five percent say politics is about economic issues,” The National Journal‘s Marin Cogan reports. “Both demographics most affected by abortion policy — young uninsured people and women — are more likely to support Democrats.”
Photo: Anuska Sampedro via Flickr
The Millionaires Aren’t Leaving
A key step that California took to balance its budget was to approve a ballot measure by 55.4 percent of the vote that raised taxes on millionaires. The state’s richest residents now pay 51.9 percent in combined in federal and state taxes on income over $1 million.
And the problem for Republicans is that these rich folks don’t seem to be going anywhere.
In fact, a Stanford University study of an earlier increase on the rich found that “the highest-income Californians were less likely to leave the state after the millionaire tax was passed.”
Our David Cay Johnston reports that “few Americans believe the wealthiest Americans pay too much income tax.”
It seems that California’s millionaire tax is more likely to be exported than its millionaires.
Photo: Jason McELweenie via Flickr
They’re Making It Easier To Vote
Despite the fact that the presidential election wasn’t even close to competitive in California, the state posted a 72 percent voter turnout rate in 2012, its highest rate ever in a general election.
This didn’t happen by accident.
While Republican states are compulsively enacting new restrictions on registering and voting, California actually made voter registration easier.
State Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) authored a bill that makes registering to vote in California available online to all citizens. A huge push by the state followed, which led to 800,000 residents registering in the 45 days leading up to the election and the state setting a record for the number of eligible voters. Some credit this one innovation with giving Democrats a supermajority in both state houses, as Democrats registering online outnumbered Republicans by a margin of 2 to 1.
“This combined with a comprehensive mobilization of infrequent voting communities, particularly low-income voters, students and communities of color,” The New Republic‘s David Dayen reported. “The outreach to immigrant and youth voters, through groups like California Calls and the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), also made a huge difference.”
Making registering easy and then mobilizing infrequent voters is a pretty simple formula. And the Republican Party as we know it cannot survive if this trend spreads to all 50 states.
Photo: Sean Dreilinger via Flickr
It Could Happen To Texas
In Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is the only one of Scrooge’s spectral visitors who does not speak. If this ghost were to visit Speaker Boehner in his dreams, it would likely take out a map and point to Texas.
In not too many years, Texas could switch from being all Republican to all Democrat. If that happens, no Republican will ever again win the White House. New York and California are for the foreseeable future unalterably Democrat. If Texas turns bright blue, the electoral college math is simple. We won’t be talking about Ohio, we won’t be talking about Florida or Virginia, because it won’t matter. If Texas is bright blue, you can’t get to 270 electoral votes. The Republican Party would cease to exist.
Despite this awareness, Cruz is a vocal opponent of the Senate immigration reform bill. He is, however, in favor of some form of legalization.
Republicans will likely be visited by several ghosts of donations future in the next few months, as many of the party’s largest donors know that reform will make their goal of recapturing the White House far more likely. The pressure to pass some immigration bill will rise exponentially after deadlines for primary elections pass. But will some bill be enough, given what could have been accomplished?
Only the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come knows.
Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr