Analysis

Battered, California GOP struggles to maintain toehold

Republicans show support for Donald Trump at a rally at the Anaheim Convention Center. (Photo: mikeledray, via Shutterstock)

Consider the California Republican Party.

Or, what’s left of it.

Not long ago, California Republicans slugged it out with Democrats in competitive statewide campaigns and threw considerable weight into legislative policy debates. But today, after a quarter-century slide into irrelevancy and dogma, it’s reasonable to consider if the state party still has a pulse and if its future includes a revival. The California party faces obstacles far more challenging than its brethren in other parts of the country, so what might it take for Republicans again to influence California politics and policy?

The GOP wasn’t always beside the point.

In 1994, to be precise, the Grand Old Party had a grand old year, capturing a majority 41 seats in the state Assembly and electing five constitutional officers – Governor Pete Wilson, Attorney General Dan Lungren, Secretary of State Bill Jones, Treasurer Matt Fong and Insurance Commissioner Charles Quackenbush. As a topper, Michael Huffington, an obscure congressman from Santa Barbara, came within a hairsbreadth of ousting U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein.

After 1994, the Republican Party’s trajectory was akin to a stock market crash and left it struggling for relevance in the nation’s most-populous state. Although few realized it at the time, debris from that election contributed to the rough descent.

“Demographics is destiny. It’s an historical principle, and the Republican Party has been ignoring it for 25 years.”– Roger Niello

First, Republicans turned on themselves when a fissure in the GOP caucus roiled the Assembly for an entire year. When the new Legislature convened in December 1994, a renegade Diamond Bar Republican named Paul Horcher jumped ship to vote for Democrat Willie Brown as speaker, denying Republicans control of the house and allowing Democrats to cling to power. Horcher, a moderate in his second term, turned because he claimed to have been bullied by caucus conservatives. Midway through 1995, Brown and Democrats colluded with another mutinous Republican – Doris Allen of Huntington Beach – handing her the title of speaker while retaining power for themselves. It took a year, and recalls of Horcher and Allen, until Republicans sorted the mess and installed Anaheim’s Curt Pringle as a legitimate Republican speaker. Democrats re-took the Assembly in the 1996 election, and Republicans wandered into the legislative wilderness, where they remain today in ever-dwindling numbers.

A second event took longer to gain clarity and momentum. During the 1994 election, Republicans, led by Wilson, went full-throttle in favor of Proposition 187 – the initiative that denied social and economic benefits to illegal immigrants. The pro-187 campaign was harsh and racist, demonizing illegals and focusing on Latinos. It also was successful, passing with 59 percent of the vote. But it created an animus for Republicans among Latino voters that endures to this day, with Latinos an ever-increasing share of the electorate.

“Demographics is destiny,” said former Republican Assemblyman Roger Niello of Sacramento. “It’s an historical principle, and the Republican Party has been ignoring it for 25 years.”

Republican voter registration is at 24.2 percent, a drop from its 1994 mark of 37.2 percent and only a fraction of a percent better than “decline to state.”

Mike Madrid, the party’s one-time political director, was even more succinct, referring to the party’s current drift as “a demographic death spiral,” in California and nationally. Both Niello and Madrid point to the fact that, not surprisingly, Latino voters overwhelmingly back Democrats in California elections, a bloc of support largely responsible for the Republicans’ chronic tailspin.

Where does the party stand now?

The situation ain’t pretty.

  • Republican voter registration is at 24.2 percent, a drop from its 1994 mark of 37.2 percent and only a fraction of a percent better than “decline to state.” And that’s after a marginal uptick in 2019-20. Democratic registration, on the other hand, is at 46.1 percent, down only 3 points since 1994.
  • The party’s presidential nominee in 2016 and 2020 – Donald Trump – suffered the two worst pastings by a presidential candidate in state history, losing this past November by a nearly two-to-one margin, or more than five million votes.
  • In 2018, GOP gubernatorial candidate John Cox lost by three million votes, and the party has failed to elect a statewide officer of any stripe since Arnold Schwarzenegger won a second term as governor in 2006 – a triumph more about the iconic Schwarzenegger than the Republican Party.
  • In the Legislature, the party’s nine-member Senate caucus could meet in the corner booth at Frank Fat’s Restaurant, while the Assembly caucus is at a near-historic low of 19. Only 11 of California’s 53-member U.S. House delegation are Republican – and this after the GOP clawed back four seats lost to Democrats in 2018.

Opportunity
“There’s nothing in the laws of nature that says parties have to come back from irrelevancy,” warned Madrid.

True, but the laws of nature also provide opportunities. For Republicans, all it will take is hard work, a bit of luck, ethnic and generational diversity, and the cooperation of Democrats. Oh, and a reasoned, decisive move away from Trump and the Trump-saturated national party that does not alienate Trump faithful in its local base.

“They still have a steep hill to climb, but the first step is to put together a party that looks and sounds more like California.” — Dan Schnur

Some of the hard work has been done, at least internally, and party leaders point to improved fund-raising, successful voter-registration drives, more sophisticated voter databases, district walking efforts (where Republicans out-hustled Democrats in 2020), a vibrant social media and messaging program, and candidate recruitment that begins to reflect the state’s diversity.

“The party has expanded its digital fund-raising and built a new database to make it consistent,” said former party chair Jim Brulte. “Direct mail is increasing. Operationally, the party is very, very sound.”

Brulte noted an uptick in registration as a sign that the party stopped hemorrhaging voters and is poised to grow. “In the past two years,” he said, “we went from 4.7 million registered to 5.3 million registered, and that was without a significant registration program.” He also pointed out that, contrary to conventional wisdom and historical precedent, Republicans won close races in 2020’s high-turnout election. Although the top of the ticket was drubbed, down-ballot Republicans ran ahead of Donald Trump in key congressional and legislative districts.

“The party is diversifying,” said three-term Assemblyman Vince Fong of Bakersfield, the first Asian-American to represent Kern County. “Party leadership is diverse … and our candidates are diverse.” He noted that the leaders of the party’s legislative caucuses are women – Senator Shannon Grove of Bakersfield and Assemblywoman Marie Waldron of Escondido – as is the party’s current chair, Jessica Millan Patterson, a Latina. “Those voices will continue to grow within the party.”

Diversity helped in 2020, said Dan Schnur, a former Republican campaign consultant who now teaches at USC and UC Berkeley. “Republicans made an effort to recruit and support female, minority and veteran candidates. They still have a steep hill to climb, but the first step is to put together a party that looks and sounds more like California.”

“A lot of Americans feel as though they are not being heard. That creates an undercurrent of anxiety and frustration.” — Vince Fong

On that note, UC San Diego political science professor Thad Kousser singled out four Republican candidates who re-captured the congressional districts lost to Democrats in 2018 – Michelle Steele, Young Kim, David Valadao and Mike Garcia. “If you want a lesson in how to win,” he said, “make those new Republican members the face of the party.”

More progress was reflected in a New York Times analysis of voting patterns in immigrant precincts during the 2020 election, compared with 2016. Released in late December, the Times study showed marked improvement for Trump among Asian-American voters, especially Vietnamese but also among Latinos. According to the Times, Orange and Los Angeles county precincts with a Latino majority cast 415,000 more votes in 2020 than in 2016, and Trump’s share of the vote improved in 87 percent of those precincts.

Progress aside, Latinos still voted overwhelmingly Democratic. With diversity key to growth in a state where most new voters are young and not white, Republicans must build coalitions that draw from the state’s varied demographics. As Democrats appeal more and more to those with higher levels of education, Republicans see a chance to improve their numbers by creating a populist, working-class coalition that mirrors what the national party has accomplished in the South and Midwest.

“A lot of Americans feel as though they are not being heard,” said Assemblyman Fong. “That creates an undercurrent of anxiety and frustration. Who is advocating for me as an ordinary American? The Republican Party strives to be that voice.”

Easier said than done since California is different than other regions and gaining ground among “ordinary Americans” requires a bigger tent than Republicans have been willing to raise in the past.

Building a successful coalition in California among myriad ethnic communities will require policies that apply to economic classes regardless of race and ethnicity.

Even in the best of worlds, building working-class coalitions is tricky; it means reaching across racial divides to those who benefit from social-welfare programs – a challenge for a party that has consistently opposed those programs and successfully played the race card for more than a quarter century.

Republicans are between “the rock and the hard place,” said Robert Huckfeldt, distinguished professor of political science at UC Davis whose research focuses on working-class coalitions. “They’d like to build that coalition, but their natural appeal is to more affluent populations, those who don’t see themselves benefitting from social-welfare policies. At the same time, Republicans need to reach out to other groups to make [coalitions] work, and that becomes problematical.”

In their recent book, “Race, Class and Social Welfare,” Huckfeldt and co-author Erik Engstrom of UC-Davis explain that the electorate is fragmented by race, ethnicity and national origin rather than by economic interests. As a result, working-class coalitions most often fracture around racial animosity – a dilemma when trying to organize an American working class with deep divisions based on race and ethnicity. Building a successful coalition in California among myriad ethnic communities will require policies that apply to economic classes regardless of race and ethnicity. As the Huckfeldt-Engstrom book shows, history does not offer much encouragement that such a coalition will survive.

Despite new faces and improved operations, renewed relevance may be as much in the hands of Democrats as Republicans.

“California is a light-blue state, not a progressive state,” said Bruce Cain, professor of political science and director of the Center for the American West at Stanford. “Democrats could get so far out on the left that it opens opportunities [for Republicans].”

As evidence, Cain and others point to the defeat of several progressive initiatives this past November on subjects ranging from affirmative action, rent control, bail, split-roll property taxes, parole, lower voting age, and even regulation of dialysis clinics.

“It’s possible to take advantage of what are perceived as Democratic excesses,” said Cain. “Even ideas that are good ideas have to be popular, and it’s not obvious that Democrats can do a progressive agenda any time soon.”

Republicans are even more emphatic.

“Democrats can’t hide,” Brulte warned. “In the minds of the electorate, they are in total control both in Washington and Sacramento. They own what happens.”

“He (Newsom) tells others to do one thing and he does another, like closing schools for everyone else while he sends his kids to a private school.” —    Jessica Millan Patterson

Brulte then laid out a litany of ills he said will roost on Democrats in 2022. “Homelessness is a problem and getting worse, not better. The imbalance in the state’s pension system is getting worse. Housing is less affordable than a year ago. The budget problem is getting serious. Independent voters and soft Democrats will look for other places to go. Remember, elections are about rewarding people and punishing people, and California is getting ready to punish Democrats in 2022.”

Senate Republican Caucus Chair Shannon Grove of Bakersfield said Democratic policies are “chasing away everyday families, businesses and deteriorating the California dream.”

“Democrats are giving us a lot to work with,” said Patterson, the party chair. “Democratic policies have hurt ordinary Californians.”

But Patterson also singled out another issue she believes will work strongly in Republicans’ favor: Gov. Gavin Newsom’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Gavin Newsom has lost all credibility,” she explained. “He tells others to do one thing and he does another, like closing schools for everyone else while he sends his kids to a private school. Other states offer a roadmap to handling this a better way.”

And therein lies the rub should Republicans campaign on this issue. As Patterson suggested, some states do offer a better roadmap, but that’s because states were cast adrift by a Republican Trump Administration with no national, coordinated plan to deal with the pandemic. The vacuum forced states to go it alone and often compete with each other for scarce resources. In fact, the administration’s COVID response has been universally denounced as inadequate, incompetent and irresponsible, while Republicans generally have pooh-poohed even the most basic measures designed to blunt the spread of the virus – such as social distancing and wearing masks.

“I’m guessing that a majority of Californians wouldn’t list high-speed rail in their top 20 priorities.” — Vince Fong

“The Trump response was as good as it could have been,” countered Patterson, who argued that the pandemic will be Newsom’s millstone, not the Republicans’ – a dubious suggestion at best.

COVID and other ills require more than gripes about Democratic performance, however; they need solutions, and Republicans think they have ideas that will appeal to disaffected Democrats and independents.

Assemblyman Fong, for instance, listed a series of ideas he believes match what Californians want from government: “Reform CEQA [California Environmental Quality Act], streamline regs to help build affordable housing, build hospital capacity, address the nursing shortage, improve the business climate through regulatory reform, lower taxes and fees.”

Fong also said Republican budget priorities will compare favorably with those from Democrats but only singling out what he called the opposition’s continued support for high-speed rail. “I’m guessing that a majority of Californians wouldn’t list high-speed rail in their top 20 priorities,” he said. “In the end, Californians will look past the rhetoric and see how these priorities play out in their daily lives. Our issues cut through the noise.”

Patterson referred specifics about Republican legislative priorities to legislative leaders. Waldron’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

Grove, on the other hand, cited the “Keep California Working Act” which she said will invest $2.6 billion in grants to help small business stay open. She also said Republicans will push legislation to “stop further unemployment fraud … protect Californians from identity theft” and support “district attorneys in their efforts to hold fraudsters accountable.”

Grove, however, offered no proposals on how to combat other ills blamed on Democrats, such as homelessness, a high poverty rate, wildfires or power outages. She also did not explain her caucus’ priorities for the 2021-22 state budget, or how Republicans would deal with the environment and issues related to climate change.

“The party has to make the case that jobs are lost due to extreme Democratic policies.” — Charles Bell

The latter issues are of critical importance when Republicans seek converts from another growing and vital demographic – young voters. The party has rarely been in step with their views. Over the past four years, Trump and his congressional allies have been hostile to efforts to protect the planet, rolling back environmental regulations and demeaning the value of scientific expertise. Grove was silent on what California Republicans plan to offer.

Still, there are ways to finesse an unpopular message, said Charles Bell, a San Luis Obispo attorney and long a fixture as Republican Party counsel. “Instead of fighting the concept,” he suggested, “focus on the cost. Push back on drilling bans and the effort to make all cars electric cars. The party has to make the case that jobs are lost due to extreme Democratic policies.”

Overall, Republicans are confident that a path to respectability is feasible, and campaign consultant Matt Rexroad points to a “spark and enthusiasm” permeating throughout the rank-and-file. “This was supposed to be a bad year, and we did quite well,” he said to explain the renewed energy and confidence. “That is very heartening.”

Challenges
Optimism aside, the party faces several Everest-like challenges.

Enter Donald Trump.

At the moment, the national party – and its California counterpart – are lashed to Trump like Ahab to the Great White Whale. Trump lost California by five million votes, and although down-ballot Republicans ran ahead of him, their margins cannot be considered a break-away movement.

“Trump is the Chernobyl of the California Republican Party.” — Dan Schnur,

More noteworthy, Trump has reshaped the national party into an uber-partisan loyalist cult with few recognizable principles and a predominantly white base motivated by fear, grievance and often racism. In the process, Trump has emboldened the ugly side of partisanship, a dynamic unlikely to appeal to young and ethnic voters.

Finally, Trump and his devotees – including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield – have sought, with ferocity, to undermine confidence in the election process, demanded loyalty to that effort and persecuted anyone who opposed them, which to date included no one from California.

“Trump is the Chernobyl of the California Republican Party,” said Dan Schnur, a reference to the 1996 Russian nuclear disaster that turned a province of the former Soviet Union into a toxic wasteland. “It’s going to take a while for that kind of radioactivity to subside. It won’t happen anytime soon, and Trump does not appear to be going away anytime soon.”

And it’s not only Trump’s abusive personality and caustic approach to politics. As president, “Trump violated every core tenant of conservatism – and the Republican Party was elated,” said Mike Madrid, a co-founder of the anti-Trump campaign team, The Lincoln Project. “The party is now identified with isolationism, nativism and nationalism, all in direct conflict with conservatives. We no longer have discussions about tax policy. We have discussions about building walls, about grievances and about blaming everyone but white people.”

Kousser of UC San Diego agreed. “The thing that has put the California GOP in dire straights is its embrace of Donald Trump,” he said. “Pulling away from Trump offers a chance to go in a different direction on immigration, and environment and social issues. The challenge is to pull away from the national party, but that’s going to be impossible if it remains the party of Trump,” who goes off the rails when anyone strays from his personal orthodoxy.

“No one two years from now will care about Trump’s efforts [since the election].” — Matt Rexroad.

Aside from the turmoil of Trump’s four-year assault on conservative principles and basic human decency, the president’s bizarre behavior since his November defeat added another quagmire for Republicans to negotiate, which they did with a deft sidestep.

As of the first week of January, no prominent California Republican mustered the courage to censure Trump’s conduct, including unproven claims that conspiracies and voter fraud stole the election, reported discussions about enlisting the military to overturn the election, pardons issued to political cronies, his delay in signing a COVID relief package, potentially illegal pressure on state elections officials, and a congressional challenge to the Electoral College vote. In fact, one of the state’s most prominent Republicans – McCarthy, the House minority leader – signed a letter of support for a Texas lawsuit seeking to disenfranchise millions of voters in four key states, a suit summarily dismissed by the U.S. Supreme Court in December. The national party has fallen in lock-step with these efforts, with the Texas party chairman at one point suggesting succession.

Instead of addressing Trump’s behavior, California Republicans pretend he isn’t there, discounting his hold on the state party, as well as after-shocks that may linger once Trump leaves office later this month.

“No one two years from now will care about Trump’s efforts [since the election],” said Matt Rexroad. Except, of course, for Democrats, who will fasten Trump to Republicans with industrial strength rivets.

Patterson, the party chair, said the California party will focus on local issues, as though Trumpism was somehow invisible west of the Sierras. At the same time, she sidled in next to the president by insisting that election fraud occurred, albeit acknowledging there wasn’t enough evidence to turn the result in Trump’s favor. She also refused to say whether Trump’s allegations and behavior went too far, an evasion former Assemblyman Niello spun, statesman-like, while conceding Trump’s hold on the party.

“Californians need to stay away from criticizing Trump because he does have a base in the state,” Niello said. “That criticism could fracture the party.”

“A two or three percent increase among Latino males isn’t good data. Trump lost 70 percent to 30 percent among all Latinos, and that’s horrible data.” — Mike Madrid

Brulte, among others, dismissed Trump’s negative influence on the party’s ability to elect more Republicans in California. “The 2022 election won’t be about Donald Trump,” he argued. “It will be about Gavin Newsom, Joe Biden and the Democratic Legislature. Trump’s influence over the party won’t fade, but it also won’t matter.”

No one really knows what the Trump brand will mean for Republicans in 2022, but the notion that he won’t matter drifts into magical thinking, and it could take a herculean effort to fog Trump’s legacy past a skeptical electorate that’s already demonstrated – twice – what it thinks of the soon-to-be former president. It also presumes that Democrats will slip into a coma.

In addition to Trump, the party must still grapple with that little headache left over from 1994, what Dan Schnur called “the boulder in the road:” immigration and the GOP’s continued association with Proposition 187.

Opposition to that initiative is no longer confined to Latinos, said Schnur, noting that poll after poll during recent years showed that a growing portion of the electorate disagrees with the basic premise of 187. “That’s partly based on growth among Latinos,” he said. “But there has also been a profound shift among young people of all ethnicities” – another demographic that Republicans must penetrate to grow the party beyond its aging, mostly white base.

The party’s efforts to recruit more Latino candidates and Trump’s improved performance among Latinos in 2020 are signals that the party could move past the boulder but, as Madrid points out, “a two or three percent increase among Latino males isn’t good data. Trump lost 70 percent to 30 percent among all Latinos, and that’s horrible data.”

Also troubling is the party’s performance in local elections where, according to data from grassrootslab.com, Republicans took a drubbing both in 2018 and 2020. Although technically nonpartisan, local elections provide a first step toward higher office, the place where candidates build name recognition and track records as electeds. It’s a party’s farm system.

“There’s been an atmospheric response to Trumpism that has hurt Republicans at the local level.” — Robb Korinke.

“In 2012, Republicans were thriving at the local level,” said Robb Korinke of grassrootslab.com. “They held 47 percent of mayors and city council seats despite only having 29 percent of voters. There were 75 Republican-run cities with Democrat majority registration.”

But Korinke’s data shows a sharp reversal of fortunes. “After 2018,” he said, “47 percent were held by Democrats and only 35 percent by Republicans. And in 2020, Democrats took 53 percent of seats to 35 percent for Republicans. The GOP has lost 500 local-government seats over the past eight years, a trend that has accelerated since 2016.” He noted that city government in, of all places, Irvine and Costa Mesa, neighboring Orange County communities, both flipped to the Democrats in 2020. (Republicans had their flips, as well, notably the Chico City Council.)

“My local candidates didn’t have any problem,” said Matt Rexroad, although it is significant that his candidates rarely identified themselves as Republican and did not run under a GOP banner in nonpartisan local races.

“There’s been an atmospheric response to Trumpism that has hurt Republicans at the local level,” said Korinke. “Younger, more diverse female candidates are entering the local election system and winning, and they are overwhelmingly Democratic.” According to grassrootslab.com’s data, 468 women won local elections in November, two-thirds of them Democrats. “We’re seeing more younger people of color taking offices from older white guys. There’s been a [Republican] collapse at the local level, and to change that dynamic, to grow the base, they have to move into a changing demographic.”

A demographic that has not been all that receptive to the current Republican brand.

Finally, Republicans have not entirely resolved internal struggles, purging those seen as too collaborative with Democrats or not sufficiently adherent to rigid definitions of what it means to be a Republican. In other words – moderates. Citing that rigidity, former Assembly caucus leader Chad Mayes left the party in 2017, registering instead as an independent. With no party preference, the Inland Empire lawmaker won re-election to a fourth term this past November.

“Both parties must find a way to accommodate the crazies in their ranks,” said Schnur.

Orange County Assemblyman Tyler Diep wasn’t so lucky. In 2020, Diep endured the wrath of Orange County Republicans for his support of AB 5, the bill that classified Uber and Lyft drivers as employees – a notion voters rejected in November (Prop. 22). The party refused to endorse his re-election, and Diep was hammered from the right by Republican Janet Nguyen, who beat him in the primary and subsequently captured the seat in November.

And then, there is Brian Maienschein of San Diego. First elected to the Assembly in 2012 as a Republican, Maienschein served four terms before bolting to the Democratic Party in 2019, citing the party’s drift to the “extreme right” as the reason. It also didn’t help that he won re-election as a Republican in 2018 by only a few hundred votes, signaling that the GOP label had become a liability. He handily won a fifth term this past November as a Democrat.

“Republicans are caught in a vicious circle,” said Thad Kousser. “They lose in marginal districts, which means they continue to lose moderates. If Republicans want to be viable, they have to get past lock-step ideological purity. They have to moderate. The base has to become a new kind of Republican.”

“Both parties must find a way to accommodate the crazies in their ranks,” said Schnur. “Republicans have let those voices dominate the discussion for a long time now, and the urgency to change has to be state-based. The national party has no incentive to remake its identity to accommodate California.” Unfortunately, Schnur added, the California party doesn’t seem motivated to go in a different direction either, pointing to its all-in support for Trump’s immigration policies and its silence on his excessive and erratic post-election behavior.

The road to relevance means a transcendental change for the California Republican Party in an era marked by suffocating polarization and constant threats of retaliation from the world’s most visible and cranky Republican.

The urgency impacts the party’s ability to influence policy, as well. As several observers pointed out, Republicans can’t even stand in the way of the Democrats’ two-thirds majority in either house, which causes its traditional allies among special interests and donors to wonder, “Why bother?”

Patterson insists the party is unified, even as she faces a challenge from the right in her campaign for a second term as party chair this coming February. “We’re a united party,” she said, “and we’re prepared to take the fight to Democrats.”

Now what?
Taking that fight to Democrats requires more numbers than Republicans can muster at the moment, and an increase – enough to get back in the game – lies in precincts historically hostile to Republicans. For the party to grow, it must make inroads into Democratic territory. It can’t, as Mike Madrid said, only win “in … districts that look more like West Virginia than California.”

The road to relevance means a transcendental change for the California Republican Party in an era marked by suffocating polarization and constant threats of retaliation from the world’s most visible and cranky Republican. Foremost, the party must figure out how to appeal to youth and ethnic communities without infuriating an older, less-educated white base. To do so may require an open break with a national party currently in the thrall of Donald Trump, especially on policies dealing with immigration, the environment, international trade and the legitimacy of the nation’s electoral system. It must find ways to return to the party’s core conservative principles, all but been abandoned with Trump at the helm, and to adapt those principles to a changing demographic. At the national level, it’s difficult to zero in on what the party stands for besides fealty to Trump – not a message likely to resonate in a state Trump lost by five million votes.

Some skeptics doubt the party can change, at least at the national level. Writing in the Washington Post recently, columnist Jennifer Rubin, a self-described “never Trumper,” argued that, in its current condition, “the Republican Party is not worth preserving after years of its leaders’ moral abdication, refusal to uphold their oaths and toleration of racism.” She’s not alone in that assessment.

But even if the party has lost its way, it’s important for a healthy body politic that it bring about a revival. California needs a vibrant opposition party – not an ineffective presence that occupies a few scattered seats in the Legislature, is ignored by special interests and donors and cannot muster enough political oomph to influence the course of public policy.

It needs a real two-party system.

Not the one Dan Schnur described when he said, “California is a two-party state. It just so happens that both parties are Democratic.”

Editor’s Note: A.G. Block, a member of the Open California board of directors, is former editor of the California Journal and co-founder of the University of California’s Public-Affairs Journalism Program.


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