As political pundits speculate about what lies ahead for the Republican Party nationwide, they might do well to examine its rise and fall in California.
The state GOP that brought us Earl Warren and Ronald Reagan is a mere shadow of its former self. Republican voter registration has dipped below 30 percent, while Democrats hold every constitutional office statewide and a supermajority in the Legislature, giving them theoretically the power to remove the gridlock that has marred the state for decades.
The systematic transformation of one of the two major political parties into something that barely resembles a Double-A minor league baseball team is the result of numerous self-inflicted wounds.
Perhaps the two most glaring: The 1994 Republican-backed Proposition 187, which attempted to deny services to illegal immigrants, and Grover Norquist's "no tax pledge."
The pledge is an irresponsible Faustian bargain that has transformed Republican legislators into automatons whose adherence to Norquist supersedes conducting the people's business. As California grappled with its institutionalized deficits, Republicans in the Legislature have offered obstruction against any solution that was considered a tax increase as defined by Norquist.
But it was the passage of Prop. 187 that began the Republicans' 18-year decline. It flew in the face of the state's changing demographics and helps explain why Arnold Schwarzenegger is the only Republican to win a gubernatorial, U.S. Senate, or presidential election in California since then.
As for the Democrats, before high-fiving and becoming immersed in champagne-soaked celebrations, they should recognize that Republican incompetence may not be the magnanimous gift it would appear.
Single-party dominance was never the goal for our system of government, though that may have been part of Norquist's Machiavellian vision for the GOP. The question remains: How will Democratic Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and Assembly Speaker John Perez lead their supermajorities?
For several decades, mediocrity has been the bipartisan value that loomed over California politics. Tough choices were routinely passed on to the electorate to decide by way of the initiative process.
Meanwhile, the Legislature was tied in knots because it took two-thirds approval to raise taxes and, until recently, the same supermajority to pass the budget. The system allowed the Republican minority in the Legislature to serve as the de facto majority by eschewing compromise.
What will happen with the Democrats now in full control? Having a formidable opposition can ensure party discipline in ways a supermajority cannot. Imagine a Democrat who is the last vote to capture the two-thirds majority; what would prohibit that legislator from holding out for something "extra" for his or her district?
Once that process begins, it quickly becomes akin to herding cats. Moreover, it runs the risk of Democrats fulfilling the narrative that they are the party of irrational spending.
It is because of Republican behavior that voters decided to entrust Democrats to solve the state's chronic dysfunction. Before long, Democrats may come to miss the active participation of their GOP counterparts. With a supermajority, blaming the opposition is a nonstarter.
My hope is for Californian Republicans to break the shackles of Grover Norquist and once again become a party that is competitive in the marketplace of ideas.
California voters have replaced Republican extremism with their own brand. It is difficult to see how this will ultimately benefit the Golden State.
Decades of Republican ineptitude have led to the Democrats' supermajority. But we may look back on this moment and see that with the aid of Democratic arrogance and mediocrity, this was the beginning of the GOP turnaround in California.
Contact Byron Williams at 510-208-6417 or firstname.lastname@example.org.