Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Post Failed-Recall Election Thoughts - Why the California Republican Party Isn't Viable


For those who are not from California, we just had an attempt to recall our governor. It failed pretty badly, which probably shouldn’t have been a surprise. California has twice as many registered Democrats as Republicans, Republicans are a third party these days (more independents than Republicans), and among young people, the numbers are even more grim. (Only 17% of voters 18-30 are Republicans.) No Republican has won statewide office in more than 10 years, and the Democrats have a supermajority in the legislature.

Simply put, the GOP is not a viable party in California, and hasn’t been in a long time. 

Why is the GOP not a viable party in California? The simple answer is that its policies fail to appeal to a majority of voters. That’s how elections work. Let’s look at this. What are the most significant problems facing California, and what are the GOP proposals (if any) to address them? I believe we have one immediate acute problem, and several long-term problems.


1. Covid-19 (immediate problem)


We need to control the pandemic. This will take pressure off of our medical systems, save lives, and allow us to return to a fully open economy.

The science says that vaccination is the way out of this, and probably continued masking, at least in certain situations. This in turn means that a vaccine mandate is necessary, if right wingers continue to refuse vaccinations. Furthermore, a significant majority of the population is fed up with antivaxxers, and would support school and workplace mandates. 

GOP plan: open everything up, oppose mask mandates, oppose vaccine mandates. That’s literally the plan. They have nothing else. There is literally no plan to address Covid-19. And I guess medical workers like my wife can just go to hell, or quit and let people die.


2. Housing unaffordability and shortages 


This is the issue that causes most of the other long-term issues in California, and it isn’t particularly easy to solve. We have too little affordable housing, particularly in the places where the jobs are, namely the coastal cities. (Believe me, you can find housing in California City, where they can’t even give the lots away.) 


Classical economics would indicate that this is a supply and demand issue. If demand cannot be increased to meet the supply, look to see what is artificially constraining that supply? 


It isn’t too difficult to find causes of a short supply. Most of California’s residential areas are zoned “single family housing.” One house on a lot. Even in the big cities. These zoning laws were passed starting over 100 years ago, as a means of enforcing segregation. Since housing prices have started to soar, current owners have a vested financial interest in high - and increasing - housing prices. This has made it wickedly hard to build in places where affordable housing is needed. Between the NIMBYism, the financial self-interest, and lingering classism and racism (particularly among the older people who already got theirs when things were affordable), California has struggled to find the political will to change. 


GOP plan: Tax cuts for the rich, environmental deregulation. Say what? That’s literally what I hear every time I ask a Republican what their plan is to create affordable housing. So, we give money to the rich (who already can afford their houses), and this magically will lower housing prices? And bulldozing more farmland in Bakersfield or building homes in the forest will magically lower prices in San Diego? The dirty little secret here is that the GOP has zero interest in affordable housing. Increasing home prices means that their aging, white base makes money at the expense of the rest of us. Better to just blame the Democrats…


3. Homelessness


Yes, homelessness has increased dramatically over the last few decades. Gee, I wonder why? There are a number of factors. The lack of affordable housing means that the disabled (who make a pittance in benefits) cannot afford housing. Lack of meaningful access to mental health care and addiction care makes it difficult to be functional, and this is far more problematic once you lose housing. The lack of jobs that pay enough for housing doesn’t help either. 


Addressing homelessness requires looking at all of these together. We need a LOT more affordable housing. We need to actually fund mental health care and addiction treatment. And we need to house people first, so that they can actually access the care they need. (This isn’t particularly controversial, actually, among those who have studied homelessness.) The problem is, this costs money. 


GOP plan: More mass incarceration. Yep, we just need to lock these people up. Which actually costs a lot more than providing housing and care, but the GOP worldview is that suffering is caused by moral failure, not illness and poverty. 


4. Climate Change


Good lord, our forests are burning to the ground, we have had increasingly brutal summer heat waves that our power grids struggle to survive, and weather in general is getting more extreme. California (and the western US) has suffered a lot more than other areas of the country, and most of us understand the crisis we face. 


Positive change here will require significant changes to how we do things. Renewable (and probably nuclear) energy needs to replace fossil fuels. We need to electrify our transportation, heating, and industry. We need to shift away from individual vehicles to public transportation in many cases. (See below.)


GOP plan: Environmental deregulation. “What climate change?” Enough said. 


5. Traffic


Even during my lifetime, I have noticed how much traffic has increased in the cities. I grew up in Los Angeles, so I know traffic. Simply put, population increases, more people on the road, more traffic. And in many cases, you can’t just build more and bigger roads. 


In the cities, we need to join the rest of the world and build out comprehensive public transportation systems. Most trips for most people in the cities should be on public transit. This would reduce emissions, save commuting time, and make our cities more walkable and less toxic. This is what the future should look like. 


For longer trips, I am puzzled that the US is so resistant to building high speed rail. Heck, Ronald Reagan proposed it for California back in the 1960s. China, Japan, Europe, and even developing countries seem to be able to build this. Why do we refuse to do so? 


GOP plan: More roads. No rail. That’s not a plan. 


6. Inequality


This is a problem everywhere, but it seems particularly noticeable in California, because we are the home of the Tech Billionaires. That such a wealthy state should have obscenely wealthy (and often sociopathic) people alongside so many homeless is an embarrassment. Covid didn’t help this, as most people suffered as a result of job losses, illness, increased childcare needs, and so on. In the meantime, the billionaire class added even more obscene billions to their wealth. 


We can disagree on the best way to tackle this problem. Probably some combination of income tax reform (so that billionaires do not pay a lower rate than the working class - which is what happens right now), a wealth tax, higher wages, and a better social safety net will be necessary. The details are one thing, but we should be able to agree that we need less inequality, not more. 


GOP plan: Tax cuts for the rich! Followed by spending cuts for programs that benefit the rest of the population. 


7. Unaffordable higher education


Did you know that my dad got free state college tuition back in the 1970s at CSUN? Yep. Yet white people of his age lose their shit over AOC and her proposal for free state college. Hypocrisy much? 


Over my lifetime, the cost of higher education has soared, and student debt has become a crushing problem, particularly for lower-income students. Since the next generation is literally our future, we need to change our approach so that they can thrive. 


Both left and right seem to agree that one partial solution will be to stop (and even reverse) the explosion of administrator positions. (AKA retirement spiking for older professors.) Then, maybe we can pay for full professors and fewer adjuncts (who get by on starvation wages - literally, as in food stamps for people with doctorates.) 


But ultimately, what will be required is actually paying the cost for educational infrastructure. This isn’t controversial for primary education, but in our current time, higher education isn’t a luxury. We need to invest in our future, like literally the rest of the first world. 


GOP plan: Raise tuition so it doesn’t cost the state as much. Yep. Literally. Shift the cost even MORE to younger people, so the rich get more tax cuts. 


[Notice I left out Crime as a problem. In general, crime has been on a downward trend over my lifetime, particularly violent crime. California is no worse than any other place, actually. And the most effective ways to address crime is to address inequality and deprivation.] 




See a pattern here? Notice the lack of actual policies to address the problems? That’s the GOP, and why it is failing in California. 


The GOP succeeds better in other places, and I think that looking at their policies and rhetoric can explain why. 


I have already mentioned a few of the core GOP policies, and here they are:

1. Always cut taxes, particularly for the rich, no matter what.

2. Cut programs that benefit ordinary people, because we gave that money away in tax cuts.

3. Deregulation, particularly environmental deregulation. 

4. Solve social problems by incarcerating more people. 


But there is one more that has been the hallmark of the California GOP since governor Pete Wilson and Prop 187:

5. Blame immigrants


That was, of course, Trump’s campaign. But before that, it became the policy core of the California Republican Party. Even in this recall, an issue that they kept raising was “we have too many immigrants, particularly from Mexico.” 


California is a “majority-minority” state, meaning that non-whites outnumber whites. We have a high percentage of our population who are immigrants, and even more who are the children of immigrants. We have an amazing multi-cultural scene in our cities. (Seriously, come check out the kinds of food you can find even in our small towns.) We are the world, so to speak. And most of us like that. 


In the wake of the California GOP hitching its wagon to xenophobia back in the 1990s, a lot of the whites who had their panties in a wad over immigrants left for places like Texas and Idaho and Arizona. Many of us who stayed rejected the anti-immigrant rhetoric, and changed parties. And, the non-white portion of the population has continued to grow. So, the appeal to racism just doesn’t get you enough votes here in California.


But it sure does in rural white America.


Let me be clear here:


The GOP has no actual policy ideas to address the problems we face. So it must rely on racial, cultural, and religious grievances to win votes.


Here in California, that isn’t a winning plan. 


So what should the GOP do?


It’s not hard:


Set forth policies that address our problems and that actually work. If you appeal to voters, they vote for you. 


Time to change and evolve, in other words. In the past, the GOP has had ideas. Look back to Eisenhower, or Theodore Roosevelt. Heck, even Nixon gave us the EPA. Reagan supported high speed rail and higher education. Find things that appeal to people, and propose them. 


I would love it if we had two functional parties here in California. But the sad reality is that we only have one. The other has retreated into xenophobia and social darwinism to appeal to a shrinking base, and has abandoned the idea of governing for the common good. 



  1. And honestly, I don't expect that's going to happen. And your list doesn't just apply to the GOP; we just had an election here in Canada, and guess what? Most of the Conservative Party's plan is straight from that list too. Cut taxes (especially for the rich), eliminate social programs, deregulation everywhere, ignore environmental problems. Seems to be the standard Conservative playbook worldwide at this point, and it's just dumb. They lost, though they came way too close to winning for my liking...

    1. Though it's probably worth mentioning as an aside that Canada has a unique problem here that the US doesn't have to quite an extreme; we have an entire province who get direct cheques from the oil industry, ALWAYS vote Conservative, and are dead set against anything that suggests getting rid of oil. They're the ones who, when a local painter painted a mural of Greta Thunberg, defaced it to show their contempt for environmentalism...

      The US has anti-environmentalists, but I don't believe they have an entire section of the country being paid off by Big Oil...

    2. Well, we have Alaska, where residents get direct oil payments. And the county I live in is one of the biggest oil producing counties, so our tax base literally depends on property tax on producing wells. (Ironically, when oil prices drop, our budgets get creamed.) Texas too depends heavily on oil.