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Two Op-Eds about Calif. Politics in the LAT, on changing demographics and chances for a constitutional convention

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I don’t how unusual it is in these days when national headlines seem to dominate once the state’s crisis is momentarily resolved, but today’s L.A. Times (Mar. 5, 2009) had two interesting op-eds about California politics.  One of them, by Harold Meyerson, “As the GOP stands firm, California is changing direction,” was, as the title suggests, about the near to longterm prospects for the Republican Party in California in an era of changing demographics and politics.  Meyerson analyzes the overwhelming vote for Barack Obama by congressional districts, and finds that many Republican representatives are now representing districts that voted Democratic in 2008.  Meyerson writes:

The eight GOP congressional districts that swung Democratic are largely in exurban areas that Republicans have long claimed as their own. Seven are in Southern California, including David Dreier’s district along the foothills of northeast Los Angeles County and western San Bernardino County; Howard P. “Buck” McKeon’s sprawling district that includes Palmdale, Lancaster and much of the eastern Sierra Nevada; and Elton Gallegly’s district, which stretches from Simi Valley to Solvang. Two other unexpectedly pro-Obama districts included Riverside and Palm Springs, while another is in northern San Diego County. The one sure to induce a double-take is John Campbell’s (formerly Christopher Cox’s) coastal Orange County district centered on Newport Beach — John Wayne country, a bastion of American conservatism. Yet Obama carried it by 2,500 votes.

Meyerson expects that the trend—which has been in process for 20 years—will continue in part because the party is so dominated by extreme right-wing elements:

In the mid- and late ’90s, the once solidly Republican inner suburbs of Los Angeles — Burbank, Glendale, northern Orange County among them — began sending Democrats to Washington and Sacramento as their demographics changed. They are now solidly Democratic. What the 2008 election results signify is that L.A.’s far-flung exurbs will soon be poised for a similar makeover. It may take several elections, some incumbent retirements and the carefully targeted intervention of Obama’s volunteer legions to realize such a transformation. But Democrats have a potent if inadvertent ally in speeding this change: California’s right-wing Republican establishment.

The second op-ed was by Patt Morrison, and it focussed on the recent calls for a California Constitutional Convention (although she didn’t mention the recent meeting in Sacramento).  Morrison declares her position in the title of the piece: “California Needs a Constitutional Convention,” and goes on to say:

Arnold Schwarzenegger wants a constitutional convention. Public policy wonks and worried budgeteers want one. The Legislature may not want one — another reason to convene it.

At this point, we’ve been running on the same basic chassis we’ve had since Edison invented the phonograph.

We made it so easy to overload the vehicle of state with amendments that we have nearly 500 of them. The U.S. Constitution has 27, and it had about a 60-year head start on us.

California’s Constitution is apparently the second longest in the country, after Louisiana’s, and we all know what a model of governance Louisiana is.

One wonders, though, given that Californians are so divided about what they expect from government, is it likely that we could ever reach agreement over a new charter?

–Frank Gruber (frank@frankjgruber.net)

One thought on “Two Op-Eds about Calif. Politics in the LAT, on changing demographics and chances for a constitutional convention

  1. I share Frank’s doubts about a constitutional convention. With a convention you’d be opening up the possibility of debating provisions on issues of personal morality like abortion that have nothing to do with the state’s current political paralysis. The convention would be an extraordinary arena for lobbyists and interest groups. The Bay Area Council, for example, would undoubtedly push for business-friendly tax and regulatory measures. In the end, citizens would have to vote yes or no on a complicated constitutional package that might well contain many conflicting provisions and reflect contradictory principles. I’d prefer putting on the ballot a very few amendments dealing with particular issues like budget and taxes (doing away with the 2/3 legislative majority, for example), reforming the initiative process, and extending or eliminating term limits. These are specific items on which voters can be easily informed and presumably vote intelligently. And they are items that can significantly change the operations of state government.

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