California Model

Way back in the day, it used to be common-place for progressives to identify California as a national political trend-setter. More recently, it’s been the Right that’s most often pointed to the Golden State as teaching important national lessons: how to become Greece, mainly.

But now, after an unusually fruitful election for California Democrats and the startling advent of a balanced (or some would say near-balanced) state budget, the state is again looking golden for progressives. And in a solid article on California’s political and budgetary transformation for TNR, David Dayen draws the possible implications for Democrats dealing with obstructionist conservatives in Congress very directly:

[Y]ou can see in California’s experience a path for dealing with the current woes in Washington. California was held hostage by a conservative minority demanding unpopular concessions to end manufactured crises. Progressives fought their way out of this box by taking away the tools of minority obstruction, and empowering marginalized communities to use their vote, expanding the progressive base. National Democrats reducing minority obstruction through actions like filibuster reform, and increasing engagement among infrequent voters (particularly in non-Presidential election cycles), could accomplish similar goals.

True, though we seem to be a long way from the point where even Senate Democrats are willing to undertake serious filibuster reform. The very composition of the Senate, enshrined in the Constitution, which gives smaller states disproportionate power, is a factor states don’t have to deal with. And there’s no federal equivalent to the ballot initiative avenue which California progressives have again begun to master.

Still, Dayen is making a legitimate point. Until this last year, it appeared the stranglehold a conservative GOP had on California’s fiscal policies might never be broken. Now Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown has all but replaced the GOP as the fiscally conservative sparring partner of a left-leaning Democratic legislature. Perhaps this is the kind of “annihilation” national Republicans fear.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.