More gruel
A big country with tiny democracy

A big country with tiny democracy

Americans live in a big country. We are 320 million people spread across six time zones speaking more than 180 different languages. Our territory includes almost every imaginable climate, from tundra to coral reefs. In our cultures, cuisines and religions, we are a microcosm of humanity, a diversity too broad for summary. There are roughly 500,000 elected offices spread across our nation. About 99.95% of our elected officials are members of two political parties.

By comparison, the United Kingdom consists of 65 million people in a single time zone stretched across an island and a quarter. If they had decent freeways, you could drive across Britain from tip to tail in half a day. Nine different political parties hold seats in the British parliament. The Germans have five. The French have more than fifteen. The Irish have nine.

A political system built to prioritize consistency over representation has reached an event horizon. Americans have finally allowed our diversity to bloom in culture and commerce. Our politics must follow. It is not possible to deliver authentic political expression in a nation this large and complex through only two, monolithic, national political parties. We either adapt this system to incorporate a broader range of organized voices, or it will soon fail.

Introducing more meaningful, multi-party political competition in the US is complicated by the structure of our system. The bulk of our most powerful elected representatives are elected from single-member districts. In races where there can be only one winner, there will never be more than two candidates who can be truly competitive. Despite this structure, there are openings for the development of third parties and sub-parties. Building representation outside the Big-Two requires some creativity, but it can be done. In fact, in a few local areas this process is well underway. Those organizations can provide a roadmap for others to follow.

All politics is local. Thanks to advent of ubiquitous data, we have learned to follow the back and forth of Washington politics as if it were a football game. Much of our journalistic establishment has been swallowed by a 24-hour news model premised on covering politics as entertainment. How many voters who can identify Paul Ryan or John McCain also know the name of their town’s mayor? For better or worse, the road back to a functioning national government runs through our boring, neglected local institutions. If the foundation decays, the rooftop spire won’t hold. All politics is local.

Donald Trump is not the problem with our political system. He is a consequence of our civic rot. It took decades to put ourselves in this mess, so we can expect little or no improvement in the weeks and months after he leaves office. Americans are fundamentally disengaged from politics as something more than a TV drama. That must change, or nothing else will matter. That change can only happen in the precincts.

New political parties will not emerge from Washington. They will begin in our neighborhoods or they won’t begin at all.

But how?

An evolutionary process produces dozens, sometimes thousands, of dead-ends before a successful mutation emerges. What follows are merely suggestions. Hopefully many other models will be spawned, producing alternatives not imagined here.

Over the next few days I’ll be posting a series of pieces at Forbes meant to describe the current state of our two-party system and sketch an outline of a new direction. I’ll convert the following headlines into hyperlinks as the pieces go up. Hopefully this page can become a clearinghouse for ideas on the subject.

It starts with a few pieces explaining why I think the current system cannot be sustained.

Frustration with the Democratic Party is building in the black community.

An explanation of why Republicans have gone completely bonkers.

Why I feel it would be pointless for me to join the Democratic Party.

Then there are a few pieces, yet to be posted, describing a successful third-party strategy, starting with the example of the Working Families Party in the New York metro area.

How third parties can take hold and win.

A how-to guide to building a sub-party.

When a sub-party captured the GOP.

This is where you come in. What am I missing here? What questions still hang in the air? What parts of this concept are impractical or unreasonable or just plain wrong?


  1. EJ

    I’ve heard it argued that America doesn’t have a two-party system so much as it has two one-party systems. Red America elects Republicans to represent them, Blue America elects Democrats, and the two groups go forth to do battle on behalf of their respective cultures.

    It’s an interesting view because of how different it is to my experience of European politics. I’m not saying that we don’t have culture wars here, but either our schisms are far narrower or else our parties are all far more willing to cast a wide net. Back home in Germany, there is almost no party (except the AfD, who can bite me) who hold a position which would be morally unacceptable to the voters of another party. I support the FDP but could vote for the SPD, CDU or Greens without feeling like I’d betrayed my values.

    It might be that we instinctively shy away from aligning our parties along cultural schism lines; it might be that Germans value consensus and have a horror of groups attempting to triumph over other groups; or it might be that there’s a maximum size of nation state beyond which culture wars become too entrenched for democracy to be possible.

    1. This trend toward two parallel parties is relatively recent. It started with the Depression. Both parties used to be organized around patronage. 16 years of Democratic domination, during a period in which a quarter of the country depended on government support to eat, simply destroyed the capacity of the GOP to compete on patronage. Big northern cities have been almost exclusively dominated by Democrats since that time.

      The other event was the great party switch by Southern Conservatives. The slave states of the Deep South never had multi-party politics. They arguably never had anything remotely like a democracy. That hasn’t changed. When the pressure toward a party switch finally reached down to the precinct level in the early 90’s, they simply switched sides. When that switch completed a few years ago, the Democrats were no longer America’s majority party.

      Now you have single party Democratic rule in cities and single party Republican rule in rural areas and southern suburbs. The only place where you find some competition now is suburbs outside the South. Though it should be noted that suburbs around the new big cities in the South (Atlanta, Houston, Austin, Charlotte, etc) appear to be moving back into play.

      I think we just need to complete two long historical transitions in order to see a more multi-polar political environment at the local level. First, the counter Civil Rights movement has to run its course. We may have another decade of this as the last of the Jim Crow babies finally die off, down to a point of electoral irrelevance. The other factor is the final death of patronage politics. As a country, we are already too rich for this to make sense. Patronage politics is a structure for a much poorer, less-educated, still-developing economy. It remains as a holdover in the Democratic Party only because of an absence of competition in big cities for the past seventy years. It’s a dead habit waiting to be swept away.

      Reach the end of the cycle on those two trends, and I think you get something in the US that looks more like European parliamentary politics.

      1. I substantially concur. However, I believe that you are putting too much emphasis on patronage. There may still be a substantial amount of patronage in some areas. But I believe that there is not that much patronage left, particularly in the most of the urban areas of the West and many other urban areas as well. Also from my perspective there is a substantial amount of patronage in the Republican Party. I think that is especially true in the South and with the national Republican Party.

      2. Think of patronage as a papier mache tiger that used to be a living, breathing (ripping and tearing) force. There really isn’t that much of it left, but Democrats have learned to revere it. If you want to test that theory, watch what happens when a group of black or hispanic voters organizes to reform their local school district. Democrats will line up to crush that effort to avoid offending that tiger. Ask someone who has tried to strip their school district or county hospital of patronage hires in Boston or DC or Philly whether Democrats are still chained to patronage.

      3. EJ

        Thanks for that answer, Chris. As always, I’m honoured to learn from you.

        If I understand your answer correctly, then you argue that the twin legacies of Jim Crow and urban patronage politics are the problem; as these recede into the past then the problem will be resolved and a multiparty democracy can be restored.

        Implicit in this answer is the hope that there will be no new issues to divide the electorate. This is a hope which I empathise with, but I can think of some issues (xenophobic nationalism vs globalism, and the growing rural/urban economic split, to name only two) which seem to be looming.

        Do you believe that these new issues will fail to divide the country as irrevocably as the old ones have?

      4. Key to this new environment is not that there will be no new issues to divide the electorate, but that in true post-modern fashion there will be 14,465 new issues to divide the electorate. Instead of most of the country governed by party patronage machines, with the southern third dominated by a racist elite, we might end up with a mosaic.

        Absent some adaptations to give that diversity some channels of expression, the political structure itself simply fractures apart under the pressure. We either get a mosiac, or a floor strewn with broken glass.

      5. As long as you mention some of the big Eastern cities, I will concur that there seems to be a great deal of patronage there. I wanted to state that but thought better of it, because I am a Westerner by birth, have lived my entire life in the West, and my entire adulthood in the Seattle Metropolitan area. So my experience is somewhat limited.

        That being said, I have witnessed a great deal of change in most of the Western urban areas. As the below posting by Daniel Farina makes clear, to me the changes in California have been very dramatic. California politics has moved from being dysfunctional to being a leader. Even though, I am up North those changes have also had effects in our local governance. As always California tends to be a pacesetter, mainly because of its sheer size and population. However, this small state of Washington had put in practice some of the changes that California has implemented earlier. I’ll have more comments on his piece after I have a chance to read it in detail.

      6. California is interesting because it is America’s youngest influential culture. Yes, there were settlements there in the 18th century, but California as we know it only started to take shape during WW2. From there it has exploded.

        It has become the most American place in America, with the best of our optimism and sense of experimentation, and the worst of our vacuousness, commercialism, and rootlessness. For better or worse, I’m pretty convinced that California right now is a picture of America at our 21st century height. We’ll see.

      7. I think we need to add Colorado to the list of forward thinking states. It’s average age is younger than the national average which mimics California’s demographic and it is truly a “purple” state who have been using mail in ballots for a while…They, too, are open and creative.

      8. If “size” alone were sufficient motivation for leadership, Texas sould be right up there. Instead, a plethora of bad governance and religious right legislation has dominated the agenda of the Republican Party in the state. Abbott and Patrick are ignoring the logic and appeals from the business community, (long a mainstay of TX Republican politics), in favor of appealing to the Tea Party wing and the religious conservative block. How long will this continue to work in Texas?

        A couple of points in this regard: first, in the 2016 election, all of the major cities in TX voted majority Democrat. Yet the state voted for Trump over Clinton by almost 10 points (Johnson took 3 points in his third party bid…Libertarians are a bit too “out there” even for the most disgusted conservatives who held their noses and voted for Trump.) 2016 offers lots of data to digest in terms of understanding the dynamics of voting trends. Texan political GOP leaders like Jared Woodfill and Steven Hotze survived to fight another day. The TX Patriots Tea Party has adopted a different strategy from their angry Town Halls of the past. They are working more behind the scenes, directly writing legislation and involved in strategizing its passage. Will their decline parallel that of the party they partner?

        Second, NPR reports that the 2016 election marks the first time that Millennials and Gen-Xers out-voted older Americans. ” 69.6 million millennials (defined as people who were 18 to 35 in 2016) and members of Generation X (ages 36 to 51) cast votes in 2016, according to a Pew analysis of data from the Census Bureau. By comparison, 67.9 million baby boomers and members of older generations voted.” There should be some lessons for both parties in this fact.

        The tactics and rhetoric from Republicans seem more desperate by the day while the DNC is largely silent. Which may be just as well. As Chris noted, there are few Jack Kemp thinkers on the right these days, and if they are, they are sidelined by party leadership.

      9. With regard to WW2 influence on California: I cannot agree more. In particular, the breadth and depth of our higher education system depended on massive federal investment for officers and development of nuclear weapons.

        It cannot be understated how important this was to influencing California. It even influenced my father’s home state of New York, which began to copy the massive public education system of California by the time he went to college in 1968 as a child of second-generation Sicilians that as of yet had not completed public high school. He would go on to attend SUNY Stony Brook and then UC Berkeley. He met my mother at Stony Brook while she was earning her PhD (she’s older than him). In this way my socioeconomic gains is deeply intertwined with federal investment in education in California even before any of my ancestors ever set foot there.

        Now, look at this:

        Note that not only the famous University of California system is represented here, but also California State Universities. In addition to these two systems, there is a community college system that feeds into both. San Francisco recently made its Community College free to enroll in.

        The newest UC campus is UC Merced, built 12 years ago, in a poor yet central region of inland California. With low living expenses and grants for those without much money, a look at its demographics suggests the future is bright:

        In two generations, I think it will transform that block of California. The prestige and pull of University of California campuses, like the ports and rivers of yesteryear, seem to accumulate social capital, young people, as well as infusions of state money for maintenance and building. They are the only reliable way I know of to slowly turn a good location into a vibrant city.

      10. A couple of comments:
        1. I cannot concur more with the socioeconomic gains facilitated by widespread affordable access to higher education. In CA, it made a major difference as you point out. I am very pleased that CA has again moved towards inexpensive higher education and is continuing to expand its system.

        I myself owe my education to the Vietnam era GI Bill plus the commitment of WA towards inexpensive higher education. Alas. that has shrunk in recent years for several reasons. Too numerous to discuss here, but all are related either directly or indirectly to the gridlock in our state legislature discussed earlier.

        The Seattle Metropolitan Area would not be the hotbed of technology it is now, without the presence of the University of Washington.

        2. Mary, how did TX politics evolve into its present state? I remember when TX though conservative was not really repressive. As a matter of fact my Dad even encouraged me to consider TX colleges – he was originally from TX, but that was before he passed away and my immediate family disintegrated.

      11. When we moved to TX in 2000, it was already on its way. It has only gotten worse. Chris, being a native and involved in Republican politics can better answer your question. All I can tell you is that the religious right is very active, as is the Tea Party, along with a sense of privileged individualism that I find stifling – especially for women. I believe big businesses are beginning to split off from the religious right as they are focused on improving their bottom line, not driving customers away. Hispanics are derided as well which hasn’t been helped by the ramped up activity of ICE. Montgomery County was awarded the first $110 million grant to build the first new Immigration Detention Center in the U.S. and the second in this county – bringing bed count up to 2500 – contracted and operated with private for profit prison operator, GEO Corporation, which is noted for abuses in other areas. That’s not the kind of business you want to attract to your area.

      12. When Southern Conservatives took on the mantle of religious warriors, it changed the balance of power on their side of the aisle. Instead of white bigots sustaining a tense, uneasy relationship with a relatively liberal national Democratic party, white bigots were now sustaining an uneasy relationship with a relatively libertarian national Republican party. They gradually stripped away all the tolerance from the national GOP while adopting the worst of the GOP’s calloused economics. You ended up with a new governing coalition with no interest whatsoever in any form of public good outside of religious institutions.

        Give those nutjobs a little more time and they’ll dismantle the public school system. They’ve already pivoted the focus of the state’s resources from its pinko liberal University of Texas to its more-than-slightly-fascist Texas A&M system. And they are hard at work on a project to convert what had been one of the nation’s finest research universities into a glorified technical college.

        Education is for god-hating communists.

      13. “So, it must come as no suprise to you that the DOJ has just announced it will actively litigate college entry cases in which white students lose seats to minorities?”

        Yeah, the problem with Chris’ statement about “We may have another decade of this as the last of the Jim Crow babies finally die off, down to a point of electoral irrelevance,” is that Trump is and = and exists to be another full generation of Jim Crow. It’s too late, he’s in office, and there will be young white men who will benefit from his bigotry and will recognize it.

        About young white men:

        How many decades until they die?

      14. Yes, I’m afraid that all those old bigots and racists have been working OT training and exhibiting the kinds of authoritarian behavior that rational folks hoped would be dying out. Turns out they’re role models. Pretty discouraging.

      15. Can someone explain the A&M and UT relationship here? While the relationship seems somewhat superficially similar to CSU and UC, favoritism and particularly politicization of one over the other is not so pronounced.

      16. I’m likely to invite some flaming responses, but here’s UT vs TAMU in a nutshell.

        UT was founded to serve as Texas’ state university. TAMU was, as the name implies, an “agricultural and mechanical” institution. In other words, it had a more…let’s call it, “practical” focus while UT became a university in the traditional sense of the word. TAMU was also a military school. Every student (they were all male) was enrolled in the “corps of cadets” until 1964. UT was located in Austin, right next to the state capital. TAMU was located on a patch of land near a small East Texas town.

        UT began admitting female students in the 1880’s. It admitted its first black students in 1950. TAMU began to admit a handful of hand-picked women in 1969. It didn’t allow women full admission until well into the 70’s. TAMU was forced to admit a few black students after the passage of the Civil Rights Acts, but as late as 1965 the football coach refused to field any black players.

        I spent a lot of time on that campus growing up, and also during college. Everyone in my family who attended college (apart from my dad) went there, cousins, sisters, and on and on. I felt a draw to the place b/c of familiarity and tradition. Trouble is, I just hated everything about life on that campus, so I decided not to go. It is the opposite of a university. It’s full of arcane, military-like rules (don’t walk on that patch of grass!!!, make sure you do this thingey when you walk past this dealie!!!!). It felt like a cult compound.

        Just like an oppressive Eastern Bloc country, it produces tons of outstanding engineering talent, and lots of mediocre everything else. An environment that continues to be that stultifying and oppressive creates a very difficult climate to teach anything that isn’t rote and regimented.

        If you’ve got a family of hyper-religious kids and you want them to receive a job-focused education without getting any unsettling ideas in their heads, you ship them off to College Station. As you might imagine, lots of Texas families revere the place. It’s like Notre Dame, without the intellectual depth.

      17. With regard to A&M: that is too bad, and bizarre sounding from where I sit. Once again, the dates about admission of women and black people blows my mind.

        With regard to contrast with California: CSUs are also more practically focused, e.g. with a nursing school, but not exclusively. The main difference is UCs have a research mission, and with that and age there is a prestige bump. Some CSUs are much more selective than some UCs, e.g. Cal Poly. I think both research universities and teaching colleges have their place and a blend is the best way to get the best education to the most people for an acceptable price.

        Somewhere in this formula is the West’s dislike of pedigree, class, and lineage, not shared by the East. The idea of having our political and business order dominated by expensive colleges that have legacy and pay-to-play admissions elicits hostility that has productive outlet in the public college system, rather than a cynicism about higher education in general.

        I attended UC Berkeley ten years years ago and found it pretty apolitical, to be honest, at least by the standard of one who considers the theory of evolution apolitical. My father attended as a graduate student in 1972 which was Apex Berkeley and ribbed me that it’s a prestigious vocational school now. The city and university are symbols for ultra lefties, so it draws some of that crowd and filters out overwrought conservatives at best.

        Consider this article about conservatives on campus: The young, Trump-supporting man who is with the Young Republicans did get treated poorly (though, if one’s mother or friend stood to be deported…well…), but the more nominally conservative folks could teach their elders a thing or two: “Ann Coulter is definitely not the hill to die on.”

        Now, about affirmative action. I was young when it was heavily discussed and decisively and extensively (including racially coded monetary grants) banned in all public institutions by Proposition 209 in 1996. It was heavily discussed then on public radio and local papers, but since then, the issue has been dead. Even activists seem to only be capable of perfunctory support of public Affirmative Action in the Golden State: the focus is on police accountability, deportations, displacement, supporting poor families and communities in general, and supporting the very young. I think this is a correct focus for us.

        It is an interesting question as to how this polarized issue got resolved in the “conservative” framework uncharacteristic for our state in the popular imagination.

        In the short run, some minorities had their admission to hyper-selective UC schools like Berkeley or Los Angeles tank, something which has not yet fully recovered. I think this does do a disservice to students at those campuses, who, if they did not live in a non-segregated childhood, will lose an important chance to be at ease with many kinds of people and appreciate some of the difficulties that American out-group members face.

        However, educated Californians, including the legion with a relationship and affection for the public university system, never stopped caring about putting higher education in reach of the poor, the newcomer, and the disadvantaged, Prop 209 or not. Diversity is continuously monitored even if it has no bearing on admission, and there is continuous expansion in enrollment, the arduous fights for affordability and outreach for those without family or community guidance on college, and the investment in periphery campuses to build our system wider, rather than taller. System-wide diversity is good, as is social mobility for graduates.

        This is why that while Berkeley and UCLA attend to the most competitive students that serve an important social function of standing toe to toe and integrating with wealthy private school institutions, I see that as a crucial ingredient in service of the public mission of the university: building the UC Irvines, UC Merceds, Cal Polys, and Fresno States that top the social mobility indices.

      18. RE: State Universities Vs. Research Universities

        I think the CA approach is very good. Both research universities and teaching universities are important. Both can provide a good education. Basically, higher education should be readily available at a reasonable cost. For some high flyers, name schools and the high prestige state universities are appropriate. These are generally the state research universities. For others a state university is suitable. An important concept is that students that attend a state university to be able to go on for post-graduate work at a prestige research university, if appropriate and qualified.

        IMO, one can obtain a perfectly good education essentially equal to that at a research university. That education will allow that person to function perfectly well in the normal business world. The chief benefit of obtaining a degree from a prestige research university is the networking potential. For most, that networking potential is not significant.

        That presupposes that the teaching university provides a sound basic education that encourages independent thinking and encourages the full development of one’s intellectual capacity. I am totally ignorant of the Texas system, except for what I’ve read here and the academic reputations. Generally UT has a very good academic reputation whereas Texas A&M is not regarded as highly. From what Chris wrote, it may not provide a full education, but is more focused on the practical demands of industry. If that is true, I feel that is sad in that the graduates may not have really learned to think independently. Given the demands of the modern era, that is necessary to keep current. That is certainly true of all technical fields.

      19. I agree with your assessment w.r.t. research and teaching universities. There are some callings where prestige is of outsized importance (e.g. finance, academia), it helps you out the gate, and name recognition can help when crossing state and country lines, and yet, within California, I think things are more egalitarian than that inside California.

        Consider one of the most important metrics for a college’s prestige: acceptance rates. UC Berkeley and UCLA was 18% in 2016. Cal Poly, a CSU, is 29.5% UC San Diego is 36%, University of California Irvine is 39%, CSU Fullerton is 42%. SJSU, a CSU, is 53.4%, CSU Fresno is 58%, UC Merced is 73.7%.

        A big component here is the teaching colleges do have a lower selectivity distribution than the UCs, but the overlap is huge: really just a few campuses at either end of the spectrum.

        People go to different schools for different reasons: when I visited CSU San Jose aka SJSU, the students there were much more passionate about it than those at Berkeley. Many were strapped for cash or the first college attendees in their family, and lightheartedly snorted at the prospect of paying for the Berkeley brand across the Bay, and praised the (no doubt correct) attentiveness paid to teaching in SJSU. A good old underdog tale. Their grit, resourcefulness and determination left an impression, clearly. Many of those with less money care deeply where a college is located, so geographic distribution is important.

        At Berkeley my fellows in engineering tended to be of comfortable upper middle class stock, like myself. Privileged to be sure, but basically, stagnant reproductions of the social order that came before. I cannot think of a single friend I had there with parents that did not attend college already.

        All in all, I think the co-operation between UC campuses and wide student performance overlaps with CSUs, the similar branding, an a number of other factors lends itself to a comity between the numerous graduates of the system. The salary data suggests that skills and education, not prestige, drive the gains of the numerous graduates of the entire system, over 700,000 students in Fall 2016. All with strict and extensive bans on affirmative action.

      20. EJ

        Thank you for that, Daniel. Your comment about affirmative action being unnecessary due to the existence of regularly published diversity reports is an interesting one.

        Of course, regularly published reports are only useful if anyone reads about them and changes their behaviour because of them. Therefore, the question might be phrased as “why do awhite people in California care so much about diversity, and why don’t White people in certain other states care as much?”

        As a Californian, do you have a view on this?

      21. I don’t think the diversity reports are causative per se, rather they and their impact is caused by people in key institutions that care about them, both in compilation and interpretation.

        Also, rather interestingly, the main beneficiary of removing affirmative action has been (I suspect middle-class) Asian folks, some of which defend Prop 209 and object to less metric-driven admissions quite stridently. I have complex feelings on that topic. From what I could tell in Berkeley engineering, the constituencies were upper-middle class whites and Asian folks with a wider economic dispersion. I fit into both categories, so…

        For what it’s worth, I believe the university’s statement in the first article on its face, that they were eliminating unnecessary examinations (the cost and process-complexity of which matter to the poor). They probably also want to give an edge to people who have overcome, and that’s fine with me. If I had gone to UC Davis, for example, I don’t think my life would have been that different at a statistical level, and I enjoy a level of family wealth and stability that most do not.

        For my own part, I think the sheer scale of the system and our cultural hostility to pedigree allows for one to have this largesse: getting admitted to a famous campus is nice, but not seen as vitally important by most. That’s because our business and society has a norm of suspicion of trusting those because of the paper they have to their name: folks from less selective schools can prove themselves. Or at least, that is what I am told by those who have been on both sides of that formula, in Boston and New York as well as California. Apparently people will give you a much bigger pass for having the right credentials in the East.

        Whites did not benefit much in the end from the AA ban. Surely some who drift very left extol diversity, but to my own mind, for many more, there’s a sense that we should Leave No (Wo)Man Behind. Californians are Californians, if there are some differences or even minor annoyances with the habits of different groups, well, The Dude Abides. Obviously there are tensions, particularly at the local level when there can be wide public school disparities, but that would seem to be the zeitgeist at the state level. Our main challenge is local tensions.

        So maybe the better question is, why have Californians, at least at the state level, been resistant in some cases to “dream hoarding,” and made an economy resistant to structuring by an artificial scarcity, prestige?

      22. Daniel – how would you equate the benefit(s) of diversity tolerance in CA’s success? The fact that CA’s population appears much more heterogenous by ethicity and race is important, even though I believe broad educational access is the indispensible factor.

      23. Mary, there are probably two dynamics. For so many, exposure is a cure.

        However, a slim minority, exposure is a crucible: that twisted Stephen Miller, from Santa Monica, is an example, among some others:

        So, many Californians have probably been softened by exposure, however, a cynical sociological theory that is almost certainly at least a little real but hard to measure is how many xenophobes left California out of intolerance. It’s hard to measure because we also have a lot of out-migration on account of expenses. The matter is complicated:

        It’s difficult to square the current California with the race freak-outs of the 1990s, right when illegal immigration started to become a truly huge phenomena worthy of some concern for the stress it was putting on civic infrastructure.

        Net illegal immigration has been more or less over for ten years, however, so, the situation has stabilized and we’ve made progress in abiding both it and the loss of Affirmative Action:

        A key quotation:

        > The need for such intervention unites people like Mr. Yudof, who believes that race should be a factor in admissions, and Richard D. Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, a liberal-leaning research group, who is a prominent critic of race-based affirmative action.
        > “If you’re serious about doing admissions based on disadvantage, it requires a lot of outreach,” Mr. Kahlenberg said. “It’s the right thing to do, but it isn’t easy, and it isn’t cheap.”

        Somewhere mixed in all this is the plight of Black Californians. I can’t say much about Los Angeles, which has had some fame in this regard, but in the Bay Area, we have not yet overcome the legacy of the closure of the shipyards of World War 2, which left black communities that migrated there impoverished. West Oakland, Richmond, and Bay Shore-Hunter’s Point are all such defunct shipyards. This entrenched, concentrated, multi-generational poverty is vexatious to assist with, because the moment there is improvement there is displacement that can start the cycle all over again.

        I think in the end we’ll just need keep muddling and have some courage in inter-municipality cooperation, and persevere: conserve some families when you can, and build up civic infrastructure to where the displaced move. I have heard that race relations in some of the cities mentioned in that article, like Antioch, have deteriorated.

      24. In today’s Houston Chronicle, there was an article that spoke to the Republican’s Redmap plan to control election district design. Referenced is the comparison by Governor Abbott of TX to CA and criticisms he has for those in TX who want to “California-ize” TX. FWIW, I like the way CA set up its independent election commission, as described.

      25. TX House Speaker Joe Straus is a very capable legislator. He’s under more pressure now with both Abbott and Patrick going after him personally, but the major business interests in the state are aligned with his position. He’s shrewd and I like him a lot. If he were running in my county, I’d vote for him – and, I’m a Democrat. I expect that there will be a concerted effort to run someone against him but he’s pretty popular in his district. He’s well liked in the House too but there is pressure being applied to the membership to remove him as speaker – which would be a real loss to the state.

      26. I forgot another crucial ingredient, probably both cause and effect: coastal Californians are happy:

        But it doesn’t quite explain why projects like CSU Fresno, CSU Bakesfield, or UC Merced. You might note that these are not happy places. Yet, these colleges and universities are made vast in size and inexpensive. If Californians, or at least Californian leaders, had a more dream-hoarding instinct, they’d have been built on the coast.

      27. Yeah…I’m amazed how many “free speech” people look at people’s right to organize and criticize this in contempt. Last I checked, the government was doing nothing, as comports with the 1st amendment.

    2. I forgot another crucial ingredient, probably both cause and effect: coastal Californians are happy:

      But it doesn’t quite explain why projects like CSU Fresno, CSU Bakesfield, or UC Merced. You might note that these are not happy places. Yet, these colleges and universities are made vast in size and inexpensive. If Californians, or at least Californian leaders, had a more dream-hoarding instinct, they’d have been built on the coast.

      1. Deaniel,

        Thanks for all your detailed comments. There is a lot there and they need to be read carefully. They have been enlightening.

        I do however have a couple of comments:
        1. You briefly mentioned the emigration from California. Having lived in Washington as long as I have, I can attest to that. We have a lot of Californians here, but in general most of them have in Washington have a similar ethos to that you describe. However, I have met some who are xenophobes. In particular I r\know one who moved to the Denver area, who was very critical of California’s taxes and in general fairly xenophobic. However, I will not go into more detail because, it is not a problem now in Washington. Though I suspect that a lot of the young recruits to Amazon and the t=other tech-companies are from California. For the most part they are young and in their 20’s and 30’s.

        2.You did mention the happiness index. I noted that the California has a rank of 10, Washington is at 12, and Hawaii is at 4. Colorado is at 5. However, Oregon is at 32. I suspect that a lot of that has to do with the current prosperity in California and Washington. Why Oregon is so low, I have no idea. Though the prosperity in Oregon is largely restricted to the Portland area and the rest of the state is not that prosperous. However, Bend in Central OR is doing well. In Washington we have the same phenomenon, except we are much smaller geographically and Pugetopolis occupies a fairly significant portion of the state and has in excess of 60% of the population. All these states have been mentioned in this blog as being forward looking.

        Of course for HI, it is fairly prosperous and life is fairly good.

      2. Do you have a sense where the xenophobe(s) came from? I’m curious if he/she was in the crucible, or one of those who was in the less diverse, inland areas.

        California has a lot of unhappy areas, particularly in the inland: it can be bleak and impoverished out there. Poor immigrants are worked to the bone, and the poverty brings the usual host of problems that can cause resentments among those long there. Air pollution can be severe and causes these people to be worked literally half to death.

        For all that, I think California is Doing The Right Thing for the long term, with schooling and ever-tightening environmental regulation. It’s just excruciating for now.

      3. Let me apologize for misspelling your name and all the bad grammar and poor typing in the previous message.

        One of the xenophobes, I was referring to is an engineer now in his 50’s or 60’s. He was employed by Bechtel in San Francisco working on Hydroelectric projects. He moved to the Denver area probably mainly to escape taxation and get away from the multi-ethnic culture in San Francisco. There are others in my own family – I am the only one of my siblings that obtained a college degree and that is in engineering, though I am a classical engineer, who designs facilities.

        I am only too aware of the poverty in the inland areas and that the immigrants are worked to the bone. And as you say the poverty causes many problems. We have a similar situation in Washington. The Yakima valley in particular is an heavy agricultural area and has a large number of Hispanic immigrants, with a large proportion being undocumented. There are other agricultural areas as well with large Hispanic populations. However, WA is attempting to enforce the various laws and in so far as possible supports higher education options. Our problem is that we have the most regressive taxation structure in the Union and are in the lower tier of states in so far as per capita taxation, so funding is limited. We rely largely on the sales tax and do not have an income tax. Unfortunately, with the gridlock the Republicans have created in the legislature, we have been unable to create a more progressive structure. There are other barriers, but they generally involve taxation. CA has had its problems with taxation as well. The Republicans make the standard arguments regarding taxation.

        The good news is that the Democrats have a very good chance of taking control of the legislature, in the November election. The election includes a special election to fill a key Senate seat. The Democrat is currently ahead in the primary election results by 9 points. There are only two major candidates, so the primary is a good indicator. Since the postmark deadline for the ballots was Tuesday, they are still being counted. Though certainly almost all have been counted by now. You will be hearing more about that seat; it is attracting a lot of outside money, particularly on the Republican side. If the Democrat wins, Washington will join CA, OR and HI with Democratic trifectas.

        We concur that CA is on the right path. Many of the people here, particularly in Pugetopolis, share that opinion and look to CA to blaze the way. For example, the single payer legislation was fairly closely followed here. W

      4. Too bad to hear about the xenophobes. At least he voted with his feet rather than helping enact resentful policies against others here.

        Are your Democratic lawmakers good? Amazingly, in addition to Jerry Brown’s 61% approval, the legislature as a body has 51%:

        What are your interests in environmental regulation? In CA, mundane particulate emissions in the central valley is directly hurting the people today. Apparently, there has been huge strides over ten years, but it’s still one of the most polluted places in the country: There are direct, known healthcare costs that can be measured, and I’m sure there are quite a few more costs not easily itemized. Environmental regulation in CA is complex, but for good reason.

        I have to give some of our Republicans some credit: I think Sen Cannella and Sen Berryhill secured a good deal for their constituents and California over the course of fifty years in their maneuvering in passing the Gas Tax and Cap and Trade, respectively. They plan to expand road ($100MMM) and train systems ($400MM) to connect their economy with Sacramento and the Bay Area. The effects could be enormous.

        They have to do some amount of stage management, particularly Sen Berryhill who is not terming out, to placate the walking stereotypes in their Republican base, but their districts have a lot to lose from pollution, much of it generated in service of powerful, affluent Coastal regions (e.g. diesel trucks back and forth). They also have to toe a difficult line: many environmental regulations are regressive and disproportionately hurt their constituents in the short term, and they wisely need to extract concessions that build the district’s long-term future. I think in this regard they have Done Good. They know that turning the Central Valley into a smoggy hellscape is not going to bring good living.

        On the other side of that, they acted in accordance with a reverence for accessible higher education. Mr. Cannella refers to it as the “keystone” of the district’s economic future, and I agree. He sponsored a bill, sadly dead in committee, to expand funding for UC Merced’s Medical School: the region badly needs doctors. He also considered running for Lt. Governor, a position many consider rather toothless, to get Central Valley representation on the UC Reagents Board. As people, Cannella and Berryhill are products of UC and CSU, respectively.

        All in all, I think these two Republicans have governed admirably to put their region on the path to generational upswing, though they are getting savaged by no-government-at-any-cost members of their party.

        With regard to health care, you might note that the lower house and Jerry Brown brushed off single payer, both being somewhat annoyed at the Senate’s vagueness on how to finance it.

        I think there are a lot of impediments to executing it, even with unlimited political willpower. However, a few remarks on California’s health care…

        Firstly, ACA works here, with eleven providers. But perhaps most importantly, the home turf of Kaiser, which serves 21% of the population. When I was young, I remembered reading stories about HMO bureaucratic nightmares in the 90s, but it seems like over the last generation they’ve worked many bugs out: often, people are very happy with Kaiser, and have noted its improvements over the years:

        It is much less expensive than PPO plans like Anthem and has high quality care. Its structure incentivizes cheaper preventative care and dis-incentivizes unnecessary via passing the buck to an insurance company or the patient. It considered to be within striking distance of the United Kingdom’s NHS for efficiency. In fact, it has better outcomes and NHS has come to Kaiser to study it:

        Kaiser’s history itself is interesting:

        It’d be nice to have two Kaisers in competition. That is unlikely to happen, because Kaiser is the combination of two unlikely things: idiosyncratic civic philanthropy, by Henry Kaiser and family, and World War 2 era investment. Kaiser is quite an inspiring figure, decades ahead of his time in matters of class, gender and race egalitarianism: health care and child care were priorities for him in his shipyards. Near the end of his life, he said of all his businesses he was most proud of Kaiser Permanente.

        With that in mind, my amateur suspicion is we’ll see something more incremental, to address the weaknesses in Kaiser:

        * Access: in many areas you cannot reasonably use Kaiser, since it’s an integrated system. No Kaiser hospital access, no efficient care. That tilts against rural regions. We do not have a Master Plan for Health Care like we have a Master Plan for Higher Education. We ought to, but I don’t know if even California is ambitious enough for something like that anymore.
        * Deductible assistance for the poor
        * Universal outreach in areas of coverage and preventative care

        2.9M Californians are uninsured. This is a lot, but thanks to Medicaid expansion, we are within striking distance of universal health care even without complete overhaul of the system. I think some Republicans, like Cannella (though he’ll be termed out) will go along with *some* of this; he sponsored a bill to perform preventative dental care outreach for children, because it was exacting lots of preventable damage. They probably would balk at simply paying for more care as it is currently structured as it’d consume too much GSP, but they have shown some receptiveness to increasing access and levels of preventative care to try to bring GSP consumption of health care down. In their regions, access to care is bad, and the numbers of doctors per capita is bad, so to simply increase entitlements without structural changes to improve access in their regions will be rightfully seen as another act of dominion from the Coast.

        If we’re on top of our game, I think it’s possible we’ll see another grand bargain to somehow increase access to and supply of care in the interior regions of California along with a gradual universality of the system. I tend to think of blowing up the system for Single Payer as a negotiation position by Democrats. That’s just my amateur guess though.

      5. As Chris has stated, CA is a national laboratory for how America could work. You referenced Kaiser several time. I follow Kaiser Foundation newsletter daily and though my view is from afar, not direct as your experience and observations are, their work is impressive. They reported robust earnings which hopefully offers a model for the efficient and profitable delivery of healthcare beyond their state boundaries.

        From Becker’s Health Care – (an excellent source for those interested in the health care issue from a provider POV):

      6. Yeah, the main problems with Kaiser are reach of the model and universalism in preventative care. It has benefited from competition and tempering from many, many patient complaints. Most important is probably to tweak the market: the dis-aggregated insurancedoctorpatient model, is, I think, a failure, but powerful doctor guilds somehow have avoided scrutiny for their part in high costs.

  2. Given its mention, I felt compelled to leave a few notes on San Francisco as I, an amateur, have observed them. Please educate me on things I’m missing. I am a lifelong resident of the Bay Area, so I’ve seen some changes. My memory extends as far as around 2000.

    For one, three maybe good things have occurred in the state’s electoral laws. They have a combined effect, and they are:

    1. open primaries (2001)
    2. citizen redistricting (2008)
    3. the top-two non-partisan primary system (2010)

    Each of these key electoral reforms has had complex outcome and exposed some cracks in partisan coalitions, too numerous to detail in one post. All-too-familiarly partisan Republicans have been bitterly critical of #1 and #3, including raising lawsuits: California had a mandatory open-primary for all parties in 1996, that was defeated as unconstitutional under freedom of association grounds in 2000. The opt-in system followed in 2001. Republicans closed their primary in 2006. Democratic primaries have been open for twenty years, now.

    With regard to citizen redistricting to help control gerrymandering, we have thank to a rich GOP activist, Charles Munger Jr (son of the Munger of Berkshire). He has done great work for California’s governance through its famously volatile proposition system:,_Jr, but his electoral reform is the jewel in his crown. The story of reining in gerrymandering in California is a truly epic one, notable for both belligerents and the conspicuously absent interests. Munger is the prime mover here, but a bipartisan group of, basically, rich good-government enthusiasts wrote checks for this. It won in landslide with numerous positive op-eds.

    The most recent reform is the top-two non-partisan primary system. It was brought by the California Senate as part of a budget compromise that needed a single, crucial Republican vote, a Schwarzenegger Republican, Sen. Abel Maldonado. As an aside, you might wryly note that a son of Mexican farm-working immigrants in the GOP was crucial to make this happen. In any case, I think he negotiated thoughtfully for the good of all California here, though hardcore Republican partisans wrote some scathing op-eds. Unions also did not care for it. In the end, voters, big business, and wealthy good-government philanthropists (Including a lifelong Democrat that donated to Munger’s anti-gerrymandering cause) passed the proposition as it was predicted to moderate outcomes. I think it has delivered on this design goal.

    Somewhere in here is ranked-choice voting. I do not know how this composes with these three major reforms I have itemized, but it might be worth considering that its effects may be different in our unusual electoral system.

    The net effect is independents can freely vote in Democratic primaries and elections between, crucially, two competing Democratic candidates, and sometimes two competing Republican candidates. I think this freedom to vote for an individual decreases partisanship, but perhaps also civic engagement: the party is atomized, a collection of individuals that need individual research. This is a problem for those who don’t have two hours to scrape through ballotpedia (like me) can, so sub-party institutionalization would be nice, both to provide civic structure to organize and to help those who are not obsessives like myself.

    A recent example of this was the fierce competition for San Francisco’s state senator seat in 2016. It was a close election on high turnout, and hotly contested with candidates with real differences:

    I first give thanks that both of our candidates are learned, capable, well-meaning people. With that we can go far.

    Wiener, closer to the center, won, barely.

    In general, I am pleased with Wiener’s governance, and am quite sure he won on his housing stance, and he is duly delivering on a bill that’s winding its way successfully through the house so far. I wonder if he could have been an Eisenhower Republican. You can glimpse his mind on Facebook and Twitter,, and his thoughtful essays: The one on the need for more market-rate housing seems to be popular, though NIMBYs are having conniptions. He is also a staunch supporter of civil rights.

    You can see some of the coverage. SFExaminer is itself an interesting institution, being a old tabloid slowly reinventing itself and doing some good civic journalism:

    To understand our alignments, you might want to refer to the following enumeration of political factions in San Francisco. I may quibble with the labeling, or it may seem dated now that “progressive” has been co-opted by Sanders, but it’s roughly correct.

    The technocratic, gradual, business-cooperative center-left, Obama’s and Jerry Brown’s politics, is basically still in ascendancy here, with tensions to the left.

    Without meaning to cast aspersion on Wiener, we do owe some gratitude to those further left, such as Wiener’s defeated competitor Jane Kim, for their advocacy for communities and schools for our poorer residents who have been here for some time can suffer clashes with transplants who would just as soon evict them to free up housing supply, perhaps thoughtlessly re-starting a cycle of poverty. The following is a link to a local tabloid, but the journalist who wrote it is an intern from SFSU and punching above her weight:

    I also note that there is an accelerated crack-up in the California GOP at the state level: basically, Schwarzenegger Republicans, currently House Speaker vs. Others.,-could-cost-him-his-job

    California Is Different.

    1. Daniel – Welcome to the blog and thank you for this well-written, thoughtful lesson in California politics.

      Thankfully, California IS different. In fact, there is much the rest of the nation could learn from the creative, open thinking of the California people.

      Now, if you can just find a candidate to defeat Darrell Issa…..

      1. Thanks. Sorry I had so many editorial mistakes…I was drafting this and decided to be timely rather than perfect, and compounded with its length, one might think I wasn’t a native English speaker 🙂

        Interesting question of Darrell Issa. I’d also add Nunes to the nincompoop list. We shall see what happens. Though nothing is guaranteed, I am heartened that a GOP challenger could, in principle, unseat them. The Trump GOP are no friends of the Schwarzenegger and Munger GOP, to put it mildly. That said, I do not know how tolerant the GOP is of intra-party state fights like the rather furious campaigning by Wiener/Kim. It may be a right person, right place, right time kind of situation.

      2. Ooh, I’d forgotten about Nunes….Both he and Issa need to go….If Nunes had been a Democrat and pulled the stunt he did, the GOP would have screamed to the skies. It’s amazing how total the abdication of personal responsibility and principle has become for the GOP. And, that’s not to say that Dems are without fault; rather, that the hypocrisy on the right is so complete that it overwhelms one’s senses.

      3. There has already been some saber rattling at the community and state level to make life difficult for Californian companies dealing with wall-builders. If any pass, it’s likely there will be a legal challenge.

        Some may depend on Xavier Becerra’s judgment and the specifics on the matter. As there is no Wall and no legislation, there are no specifics.

        The issue of the wall is symbolically aggravating, but border security is a more complex matter politically. We already have border security, and many legal immigrants, including Mexican ones (who are not the newcomers these days as much: Central and South Americans are the new-new illegal immigrants, though net immigration has not swelled in the last decade) take a dim view of illegal immigration inflaming tensions that can affect them.

        What I think *does* upset Californians of many more stripes a great deal are indiscriminate, cruel deportations. We passed the majority-minority rubicon ages ago (when California did have its own race freakouts), and are doing fine. Overheated talk of “animals” is all the more cartoonish and, perhaps, scary, when it involves friends, friends of friends, or the even just the people you see in your local coffee shop.

    2. Daniel,

      Thanks for your comment. I totally concur with your closing comment that California is different. As you may have noted from my reply above, I have lived my entire adult life in the Seattle area. My first election was the 1966 election. That was when the voting age was 21. I was freshly home from Vietnam and a college freshman. The 26th Amendment was not ratified until 1971.

      During that period, I have witnessed many changes. Not the least of which are the changes in California politics. Early on I did not pay much attention to CA, but nevertheless CA was functioning quite well. That was the era of very low if not free college tuition and major public works projects, such as the State Water Project. Then the tax rebellion in CA occurred. Slowly CA politics seemed to become very dysfunctional with a continuing budget crisis and the gubernatorial recall. However, with the reforms that you mention CA politics has returned to being quite functional. CA certainly seems to be working again, and I look to it for guidance. Since Washington is on the ‘left coast’, has many similar dynamics and has our own technology hub, we are considerably affected by what happens in California.

      All the electoral reforms you mention , I feel are key to the resurgence of CA governance. I would like to supplement your descriptions with my own perspective from Washington State.

      First is the primary system, your reforms #1 and #3. In 1935, Washington adopted a system known as the blanket primary. This allowed the voters to vote for any candidate they pleased on the primary, there was no party registration. The top candidate of each major party advanced to the general election.

      In 1996, CA adopted a similar system. The political parties cooperated in litigation and the primary was invalidated by SCOTUs in 2001. Washington’s blanket primary had been challenged by the parties prior to that, but because Washington is a relatively small state, it had never been appealed to SCOTUS. CA being such a large state changed the dynamics. Washington’s blanket primary was then ruled unconstitutional in 2003.

      Following that we used an opt-in primary system for 2-3 election cycles. The Washington State Grange sponsored an initiative, to adopt the present top-two primary. There is no party registration, vaters can vote for anyone, the candidates only state their party preference and the top two finishers advance to the general election. I believe that the top-two primary in CA is similar.

      In regard to your reform #2, independent redistricting, Washington has bi-partisan redistricting. This was created in 1982 by a constitutional amendment that was proposed by the Republican Party. Prior to that redistricting, was basically accomplished by the legislature through a commission. There were numerous lawsuits and for some time new congressional candidates were elected at large. This finally came to a head. The Republican Party sensed that Washington was on the verge of adopting an independent redistricting commission so they proposed the amendment. The bipartisan commission consists of two members appointed by each party plus a non-partisan, non-voting member. The state legislature can override the recommendation by a 2/3 vote in each house.

      This relieved the pressure for a change. This has historically resulted in the districts being drawn to protect the incumbents and has limited severe gerrymandering. However in 2011, some political shenanigans were made that resulted in moderate gerrymandering to favor the Republican Party. This has resulted in the Republicans gaining control of the state senate and in turn essential gridlock. I have only given a brief overview to avoid going into irrelevant details.

      For this reason, I dislike bipartisan redistricting and feel the CA independent redistricting commission is a model for the nation.

      In summary, I believe that the three electoral reforms you discuss have been key to California now having a dynamic and generally well functioning system of governance. To be sure there are difficulties, but it does seem to functioning reasonably well and to be representative of California voters. I feel that the rest of the nation has much to learn from California. Washington would be well served to adopt an independent redistricting system.

      As an afternote, I would not be surprised if both Issa and Nunes are shown the doors in 2018. Issa almost lost his seat in 2016. With Orange County changing rapidly, 2018 could be the year. Nunes is somewhat protected in that his district is in the south part of the Central Valley, which remains one the Republican enclaves in California.

      1. Hello Mr/Ms Merritt,

        I did note when I was researching my post in more detail that Washington beat us to the punch several times on various reforms. I did not know about the background of the constitutional challenges to open primaries. I also read that Washington got to non-partisan top-two quite a while ago.

        Not to leave out our last West-Coast member, I do admire Oregon’s default-vote-by-mail electoral system, though I know even less about their politics in detail. Portland is a vibrant city for its size, though there is a continuous displacement tension from Californians cashing out and injecting money there.

        I think California’s governance will be put to the test with the selection of and governance done by Jerry Brown’s successor, whomever it may be. We’ve been blessed for the last three terms of governership (I am counting the second of Schwarzenegger’s, the first was rocky, and both of Jerry’s recent terms) with Governors with some integrity, vision, and affection for California and governing.

        Now that the GOP is a celebrity groper’s party, Schwarzenegger (who at least apologized and grown up, probably) has provided a good rallying counter-weight to Donald Trump:

        Jerry has excellent liberal bona-fides befitting the state’s reputation, but routinely acts as a fiscal check on the legislature, routinely scolding about the budget and wielding his veto pen. He has been rewarded with high approval ratings and some bipartisan cooperation.

        Interestingly, his veto pen has gone less-used than an average governor. Some lessons may have internalized: you might have noticed the speed which the lower house rejected the vague Single Payer proposal from the Senate with some unhappy remarks about funding mechanism.

        I saw a few conservatives, including thoughtful ones, mock our single-party state being in disarray on Twitter, but I think part of this is motivated reasoning — they don’t want to see aspects of California that work and involve government — and partly not understanding that a single-party town in California doesn’t mean as much as it might somewhere else (ref: Wiener/Kim again)

      2. OK, I’m going way afield here, but since you mentioned Portland….One of my favorite documentaries, “The Battered Bastards of Baseball”, tells the story about how former Bonanza-fame sheriff, Bing Russell, who started life in the minor baseball leagues in Florida, bought a flailing baseball franchise in Portland and made it into a rip-roaring success – much to the embarassment of the major league teams they beat.

        Heck, I’m not much of a baseball fan and I loved this documentary. Check it out on Netflix. Sorry – just had to share (-; In these serious times, it’s good to get away from all the heavy political theater sometimes and you won’t be disappointed in this…lots of interesting history and it will make you smile, too!

      3. Daniel,

        I absolutely concur regarding OR. It is also quite progressive. And Portland is also a very dynamic forward thinking metropolitan area. The three ‘left coast’ states all have a lot in common. They have densely populated rapidly growing coastal areas that are progressive and conservative inland areas. Except for the large immigration component in CA, they have similar population dynamics. Of course there is the tension from Californians moving North as you mention, but that is not that major an issue.

        I might mention that WA and CO also are exclusively vote-by-mail. The details differ some, but they do work. I believe CA also has a very large vote-by-mail component.

        In regard to Schwarzenegger, his second term was quite good. Once he lost the various propositions during a midterm election in his first term, he started governing from the center and turned into a fairly good governor. I’ve noted he is pushing an effort to modify the redistricting process nationally.

        Anyway welcome to the blog, it will be good to have another ‘left coaster.’ There are already some of us here.

  3. Chris, I have a question:

    You said somewhere that Americans will never accept dependence, therefore they would never accept job guarantee. Hence, best policy is Basic Income.

    Everyone else agrees with you that Americans will never accept dependence but they say that this means that they would never accept Basic Income. Best policy is therefore job guarantee or EITC or something else.

    1. There was a feature article by Lydia DePillis, in the Houston Chronicle on the importance of people earning a living wage. It describes what are basic income needs for working people. The article looked principally at people working in government but for low wages. There was lots of good local data to back up the premise of the article, which was: “either pay people a living wage or support them through the social safety net.” These people are working, they just can’t make ends meet. You’ll see most people want to be independent, but for a variety of reasons, they can’t.

    2. >] “You said somewhere that Americans will never accept dependence, therefore they would never accept job guarantee. Hence, best policy is Basic Income.

      Everyone else agrees with you that Americans will never accept dependence but they say that this means that they would never accept Basic Income. Best policy is therefore job guarantee or EITC or something else.

      Americans LOVE dependence insofar as they have a say in it and their lives are made the better for it, and that’s something you can take to the bank.

      The Constitution itself is a form of dependence. Of course it is. It’s a man-made document, without which we’d be a lawless people with no rules to bind us, chaos would reign and Cliven Bundy would be waving his shotgun around, trying to keep African-Americans in chains.

      We have no choice but to depend on it, and the examples go on and on forevermore. Republicans learned the lesson a long time ago that as soon as the public sinks their teeth into a social program like Social Security, Medicare, the ACA or whatever else, it’s damn near impossible to get them to let go without giving them something better in return.

      This is why in all the times that I’ve argued for a Basic Income (and I do it every couple of days, at the least), I have never, not once, heard someone argue that they’d just work to repeal it if it didn’t work out. Of course they don’t, because everyone understands that they’d never be able to do it. Whether it’s a professional economist or just your average citizen, it’s ALWAYS an argument about why we shouldn’t do it at all, guaranteed.

    3. Here’s the thing about the job guarantee vs. a basic income. People would prefer the job guarantee for other people. They’d prefer a basic income for themselves.

      To the extent that a program like this was seen as universal, rather than a poverty program for the “needy,” people would prefer a basic income. If they perceive as a give-away, they’ll probably prefer a job guarantee.

  4. BTW, I wish I could invite all of you here in April so that you could experience democracy in its purest form…the traditional New England town meeting. Truly, you haven’t lived until you have spent two or more hours listening to the debate on whether the town should install a traffic light on Main Street (not in keeping with the town’s historical character! but the traffic!) or whether the town should enforce leash laws in a popular park (so controversial!). It is a trip, I kid you not. Makes you really appreciate the beauty of a representative democracy.

    1. Ah, local government – where the really “big” issues are solved (-:

      Red light and dog leashes aside, I have to agree with Chris on the importance of starting local where people can be a part of the process, where their elected official may live on the same block, and where they can experience a measure of satisfaction by influencing a vote. It’s empowering.

      Wait until you sit through a school board committee meeting on banning books. Titilating!

  5. My New England town of about 20K is governed by selectmen and elected town board members. I couldn’t even begin to tell you what their party affiliations are, if indeed they have any. Parties don’t really come into play here until you vote for county and state offices. All things being equal, I’ll go with a Democrat over a Republican at the state level, but if I like the person, I’ll cross party lines (maybe even for Charlie Baker–we’ll see!). It helps that our admittedly few Republicans are mostly not insane. However, someone would have to be really, really horrific for me not to vote Democratic at the federal level.

    Right now, our democracy has large, messy factional parties. If they were broken up into more focused parties that had to form coalitions to get legislation passed, similar to what happens in a parliamentary system, you would probably end up with a situation like the U.K. where the two major parties control the vast majority of the seats (almost 90% for Conservative and Labour) and the rest are divided between a bunch of smaller, less powerful parties. To get anything done, your larger parties would have to form coalitions with one or more small parties, and promise them money or influence or whatever to get on board with their program. Imagine, if you will, the Freedom Caucus being its own party, so you had to make them all kinds of promises to help pass your legislation…ugh. They would have even more power, and be even less beholden to one of the major parties than they are now. Great.

    I don’t know what the answer is. I’m not sure there is a simple answer that works to make it easier to fairly address the concerns of such a large, diverse nation. Two parties, many parties, we’ll just end up in the same place.

    1. Freedom Caucus as a splinter group – I’d rather deal with them out front than have them working behind the scenes as they are not. When you think about it, as messy as our democratic process is, it’s amazing it has held up as well under DJT as it has. The WaPo article on the “boomerang effect” (linked in a comment below) shows that there is some semblance of democracy still struggling to be heard.

  6. How long till the West Wing installs a revolving door? Mooch lasting 10 days is another act in this farce. Someone mentioned that talent will get hard to come by based on past results. CBSN is talking about what Scaramucci’s future prospects are as I type this.

    Not real sure the best and brightest are in the West Wings future.

  7. So is there any possibility of making things worse?

    Say by hollowing out the urban Democratic party? Could Murdoch or Kochs convince a splinter party winner to vote with the rural reactionaries on some issues? After all the new party and the Democrats will be competitors. I assume eventually they will become antagonists. Or will a split of liberals allow an American conservative win?

    My city has a program to subsidize college students if they attend city schools.

    Also, recently, a program of “community schools” was OKed.

    Pittsburgh has a history like most northern cities of racism. And other mistakes have been made, but I feel positive about the governing of this city. Please don’t screw it up.

  8. What about small local parties that then choose to affiliate with national parties?

    These would act as “left/centrist/right wings” of the national parties without raising the specter of unilateral fractionalization that would hamstring a parties ability to compete nationally.

  9. Ranked Choice, as mentioned above by “George” re: Maine — is that something like proportional representation (PR)? When I was an undergrad pol sci major, the evils of PR as practiced in Europe were drilled into us for an entire semester by a European theorist named F.A. Hermens, of some note in his day I guess. If it was worth an entire semester of his antipathy, then there must also be some good arguments in favor of it. But I surely didn’t hear them then, and I haven’t thought about the subject since. Are you going to cover those ideas, Chris?

      1. One thought about the value of “ranked choice ” or similar iterations….Americans needs to spend less time having to deal with politics – on the air, in our print and digital media – constantly in our lives. Any steps that can simplify the process needs to be given a chance. It seems that we go from one election cycle to the next in a continuum that barely rests…special elections, local elections, Congressional elections. People are worn out. It s no wonder so many people don’t vote. Add the political theater to it aided and abetted by ratings and money, and it just never stops. To which sauce, add disappointment with how taxpayer money is spent and how foolish things dominate discussion (bathroom bills, etc), and the very real fact that most voters never personally know their elected officials – Is it any wonder many are tuning out?

    1. quick recap: Maine picked LePage as governor in 2010 with 37.6% of the vote. The independent runner-up candidate had 35.9% and the Democrat had 18.8%.

      Mostly as a result of this (but also because Maine “often” goes for independents), the voters of the state passed a ranked choice voting measure in 2016 by state ballot. It’s had some legal issues and political issues (the governor who would have lost as a result wasn’t a fan, if you can imagine), so I don’t know how it will turn out. However, it will be very interesting to see. Here is one bit I found interesting:

      Ranked-choice has problems – really all systems have problems. However, such systems *might* also encourage more candidates to run, because they would not be “stealing” votes from each other in quite the same way. However, there are other wonky math things that can happen that lead to a different kind of bad result. Still, I’m watching to see what happens.

    1. In smaller states, it’s easier for voters to focus on individual candidates. It is also easier for these candidates to effectively get their messages out – unfiltered by the political process and machine. More door to door and small meeting canvassing occurs and people actually get to know the person they choose to support with their vote and conversely, so are candidates better informed about the needs of their future constituents. I suspect it will take more time for large states to break with the party process for practical as well as self-serving reasons.

      Still, it is encouraging to witness the power of grassroots volunteer-led politics effectively combine people of different parties,classes, gender, ethnicity and race distanced from traditional party assistance. Disillusioned Democrats are not waiting for the national party apparatus to “find itself” given the exigencies of our current political scene. The election of Donald Trump has forced people to come out of the shadows, engage, and think more deeply about their politics and the need to protect our democracy – and that is a very good thing. It’s been a wake-up call for our relatively young nation. Republicans seem to be running in place but this election disaster has an opportunity for them to grow and learn as well – if they choose to.

      Country over party. Imagine the things we could do together.

      On the left, the focus hews more closely with traditional democratic values and positions – especially regarding social liberties and equality issues. More females are involved, principally those in their 40s-50s who finally have time from their busy dual responsibilites of home and work to participate in personal interests that are newly aroused – and independently formed. Our minority populations are becoming better educated and more gainfully employed which helps to break down barriers in the workplace and in our communities. The next logical step is to inspire them to leadership opportunities which politics affords.

      Whatever the future holds for our nation, it is clear that the disastrous election of Donald Trump has encouraged people to think more deeply about how they want society and government to interface. Not everyone has used this opportunity to grow intellectually or in empathy; however, the edge of an abyss reveals how close we are to tragedy. Backing up, turning around, choosing a safer, wiser course, “asking for help” becomes more attractive. To that end, we are all learning anew about the fragility of democracy and our individual responsibilities therein.

      I offer this thoughtful piece from WaPo on “cause and effect” and how that’s been so positive in these turbulent times.

    2. The US is a First-Past-The-Post electoral system, all things being equal. Which means that 98% of the voting population will only ever consider there to be two actual candidates…which, by the way, is the reality of the situation.


      1. The modern Republican party has to end, before some “second” party can even begin to form and take over political territory that the current Republican party dominates. And, by the way, that “third party” would be the centrist Democrats and center-right Democrats, not some “out of nowhere” third party.

      2. The only way to do that effectively and efficiently enough to stave off disaster being created by the Republican party, is Instant Runoff Voting (IRV).

      Instant Runoff Voting, by its very existence, PROMOTES third parties in a First-Past-The-Post electoral system that we’re stuck with.

      With IRV, progressives and socialists are able to vote for lefties, creating a “third party” that won’t hold a majority, but will carve out new political territory, all the while sane conservative people are able to create a new conservative majority of sane centrists, currently d/b/a centrist Dems and center-right Dems…conveniently enough already holding office.

      The current Republican party base representatives are not fit to hold political office, and you damn well know it. They must be replaced by centrists, and, voila…there already are sane, centrist politicians. They’re just stuck in the “liberal” Democratic party because There Is No Alternative…if you’re sane.

      Create an alternative, for progressive, social democratic, libruuul voters, and give sane conservatives the ability to vote for sane conservatives who are all about maintaining a functioning status quo…the Democratic party.

      Full stop.

  10. As great as it would be to have a multi party system, the rules of the game are just not set up to allow that in America. It’s the reason that every other functioning democracy in the world has a parliamentary system. For a multi party system to arise here, don’t you think it would require a fundamental changing of the constitution, which grows even less likely as partisanship increases? This has been my frustration with third party voters who complain that neither of the two major candidates represent them. The system we have is always the choice of a lesser of a two evils, and without changing the system that’s how it must be. As the saying goes, don’t hate the player, hate the game.

  11. I’m right behind you. The issue I am still wondering about (I assume to be addressed in a future piece) is how we can support new parties and movements without disastrous results? For example:,_2010

    We need a new system to allow such support, and we don’t have the needed support to change the system from the existing parties… I’ll be curious to see how Ranked Choice voting plays out in Maine. Is that the direction you are thinking, or do you have other ideas?

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