Monday, June 13, 2011

California Democrats Would Be Wise To Resist Early Chicken-Counting

Where chicken-counting = future budget votes.

So, long-time readers who haven't yet cleared this largely inactive site from their RSS feeds may recall that I used to have a thing or two to say about redistricting. Well, it's that time of the year decade again and last Friday saw the California Redistricting Commission's first set of draft maps release and the requisite freaking out/celebrating by various interest groups.

From a visual standpoint, the draft maps appear to fix a lot of what was horribly wrong with the 2000 iteration (SD 25, CD 46, I'm lookin' at you!). Of course, in a state this complex, populous, and, well Californian, there are bound to be some unhappy populations because the boundaries must go somewhere and some communities will be split. (This does not satisfy my parents whose house is perpetually along the dividing line in San Pedro. The division may be threefold in this tiny port town this time - which is lame. But more on that later.)

Some Republicans, however, peeved about the CRC process since it selected Q2 (too many Bruce Cain links! Too liberal! The horror!) and other procedural decisions viewed as partisan-motivated, are now decrying the results: the strong possibility that Dems will achieve the long-sough 2/3 majority in the Assembly and Senate.

As the WSJ's Carl Kelm summarized:
Californians can expect a greater number of competitive races under the plan. An analysis by the Sacramento Bee estimated that the number of true swing districts will increase to two from one in both Congress and the state Senate, and to five from two in the state Assembly. Still, that competitiveness comes largely at the expense of the GOP. Given the party’s continued decline in California — only 31% of voters are registered Republicans — the map necessarily gives a boost to Democrats. It does so, however, in a qualified manner. Some seats that used to be unflinchingly Democratic are now just marginally so.

Still, for the first time in decades Democrats have a mathematical possibility of reaching a two-thirds supermajority in each legislative chamber, which would allow them to raise taxes without Republican consent. That gives the GOP little electoral margin for error. Then again, the prospect of having to face competitive elections might induce a move toward the center in both parties.
It's the demographics, y'all. It's not a Democratic conspiracy - as much as some Dems probably want it to be.

What isn't being said in all of this? That Democrats should be careful what they wish for and should be cautious before celebrating these gains as a harbinger of on-time, easy budget votes. Why am I a Demmie Downer about this? Because I know my partisan-composition history.

We can look to Congress - and we needn't look too far back - for an excellent illustration of the perils of commanding a seemingly unstoppable majority party. (See also: North Dakota's 3/4 GOP majority's difficulties.) It isn't large majorities that prove effective at pushing policy changes - it's more frequently razor thin lines that demand strict party discipline to maximize efficacy.

There's always a spoiler and in California, you'll likely see Democrats assume that role once Republicans become mathematically irrelevant. With a wide majority, each Democrat assumes more power because if they step out of line, that magic 2/3 disappears quickly. An embattled minority (or in California's 2/3 requirement situation, an embattled majority) has far more motivation to stick together - the benefits of that collective power are more visible. If too many members assume, however, that they can strike out on their own due to the comfortingly high number of Democrats, you'll soon see them realize their new power and their new opportunity. It's going to take a mightly powerful, Unruh-esque leader to keep that group in line.

Combine these demographic shirts and border realignments with the as-yet untested effects of the new free-for-all, top 2 primary system and who knows what sort of personalities and agendas walk into the Capitol in 2012 and 2014. One can easily envision splits in the Democratic party forming similar to the traditional GOP/new Tea Party fracture causing all sorts of unlikely coalitions and testing newly loose cannons (and canons).


Anonymous said...

Demmie Downer. What an awesome post - had no idea you had a blog. Can't wait to read more! Inspires me to loose my own canon. :)

cd said...

Thanks, bro.

I've had the blog for seven years - though it's been basically all but dormant lately. But welcome! ;)

cd said...

p.s. there's another, more active site I can direct you to, if you'd like. FB message me or something for the url.