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Seal of California.svg
This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
California

The recent and current politics of the U.S. state of California are complex and involve a number of entrenched interests. (For historical politics, see Politics of California before 1900).

Government[edit]

The Big Five is an informal institution of the legislative leadership role in California's government, consisting of the governor, the Assembly speaker, the Assembly minority leader, the Senate president pro tempore, and the Senate minority leader.[citation needed] Members of the Big Five meet in private to discuss bills pending in the legislature. Because the party caucus leaders in California's legislature also control the party's legislative campaign funds, the leaders wield tremendous power over their caucus members. They are thus able to exert some influence in their caucus's votes in Big Five meetings. Therefore, if all five members agree to support a Bill, it will likely pass into law.[citation needed]

Electoral system[edit]

Only the Democratic Party and Republican Party currently have representation in the State Legislature. However, for a brief period around the turn of the 21st century, one member of the Green Party was a member of the State Assembly, representing the eastern San Francisco Bay Area.

California currently uses the plurality voting system ("First-past-the-post") in its elections, but some municipalities such as San Francisco and Berkeley have opted to use a system of preferential voting, currently used in Australia and Ireland, more popularly known in the United States as instant-runoff voting or ranked choice voting.

Local elections in California at the county and city level are officially non-partisan and political party affiliations are not included on local election ballots.

Political parties[edit]

Presidential election results[1]
Year Republican Democratic Others
2012
37.12%   
4,839,958
60.24%  
7,854,285
2.77%   
361,572
2008
36.91%   
5,011,781
60.94%  
8,274,473
2.19%   
296,829
2004
44.36%   
5,509,826
54.40%  
6,745,485
1.34%   
166,548
2000
41.65%   
4,567,429
53.45%  
5,861,203
4.90%   
537,224
1996
38.21%   
3,828,380
51.10%  
5,119,835
10.69%   
1,071,269
1992
32.61%   
3,630,574
46.01%  
5,121,325
21.38%   
2,379,822
1988
51.13%  
5,054,917
47.56%   
4,702,233
1.31%   
129,914
1984
57.51%  
5,467,009
41.27%   
3,922,519
1.22%   
115,895
1980
52.69%  
4,524,858
35.91%   
3,083,661
11.40%   
978,544
1976
49.35%  
3,882,244
47.57%   
3,742,284
3.08%   
242,589
1972
55.01%  
4,602,096
41.54%   
3,475,847
3.46%   
289,919
1968
47.82%  
3,467,664
44.74%   
3,244,318
7.44%   
539,605
1964
40.79%   
2,879,108
59.11%  
4,171,877
0.09%   
6,601
1960
50.10%  
3,259,722
49.55%   
3,224,099
0.35%   
22,757
1956
55.39%  
3,027,668
44.27%   
2,420,135
0.34%   
18,552
1952
56.83%  
3,035,587
42.27%   
2,257,646
0.91%   
48,370
1948
47.13%   
1,895,269
47.57%  
1,913,134
5.30%   
213,135
1944
42.97%   
1,512,965
56.48%  
1,988,564
0.55%   
19,346
1940
41.34%   
1,351,419
57.44%  
1,877,618
1.22%   
39,754
1936
31.70%   
836,431
66.95%  
1,766,836
1.35%   
35,615
1932
37.39%   
847,902
58.39%  
1,324,157
4.23%   
95,907
1928
64.69%  
1,162,323
34.19%   
614,365
1.11%   
19,968
1924
57.20%  
733,250
8.23%   
105,514
34.57%   
443,136
1920
66.20%  
624,992
24.28%   
229,191
9.52%   
89,867
1916
46.27%   
462,516
46.65%  
466,289
7.08%   
70,798
1912
0.58%   
3,914
41.81%   
283,463
57.61%  
390,594
1908
55.46%  
214,398
32.98%   
127,492
11.56%   
44,707
1904
61.84%  
205,226
26.94%   
89,404
11.22%   
37,248
1900
54.50%  
164,755
41.34%   
124,985
4.16%   
12,578
1896
49.16%  
146,688
48.51%   
144,766
2.33%   
6,965
1892
43.78%   
118,027
43.83%  
118,174
12.39%   
33,408
1888
49.66%  
124,816
46.84%   
117,729
3.50%   
8,794
1884
51.97%  
102,369
45.33%   
89,288
2.71%   
5,331
1880
48.89%   
80,282
48.98%  
80,426
2.14%   
3,510
1876
50.88%  
79,258
49.08%   
76,460
0.04%   
66
1872
56.38%  
54,007
42.51%   
40,717
1.11%   
1,061
1868
50.24%  
54,588
49.76%   
54,068
0.00%   
0
1864
58.60%  
62,053
41.40%   
43,837
0.00%   
0
1860
32.32%  
38,733
31.71%   
37,999
35.97%   
43,095
1856
18.78%   
20,704
48.38%  
53,342
32.84%   
36,209
1852
N/A
53.02%  
40,721
46.98%   
36,089

The two major political parties in California that currently have representation in the State Legislature and U.S. Congress are the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. There are four other parties that qualify for official ballot status: the American Independent Party, Green Party, Libertarian Party, and Peace and Freedom Party.[2]

Of the 18,245,970 California voters registered for the November 6, 2012, general election:[3]

  • 43.7% were Democrats
  • 29.4% were Republicans
  • 6.0% were affiliated with other political parties
  • 20.9% were unaffiliated ("Decline to State" or "No Party Preference") voters

Political issues[edit]

Many of California's governmental agencies, institutions, and programs have been established in the Constitution of California. Additionally, the state constitution establishes mandatory funding levels for some agencies, programs and institutions. This issue came to the forefront when Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the California Legislature attempted to cut spending to close the state's multi-billion dollar budget deficits during the 2000s. Consequently, affected agencies with support from special interest groups, successfully pressed the California Supreme Court to order the restoration of funding to a number of agencies and programs which had been cut.

There have been several events, many[citation needed] dubbed "constitutional crises" by their opponents, over the last thirty-two years including:

  • the passage of term limits for the California legislature and elected constitutional officers, which was hotly argued state-wide, and debated in the Supreme Court of California;[citation needed]
  • a test of the ratification process for the Supreme Court, in which a liberal chief justice, Rose Bird, and two liberal associate Justices, Joseph Grodin and Cruz Reynoso, were ousted;[citation needed]
  • a full-fledged tax revolt, "Proposition 13", which resulted in the freezing of real estate tax rates at 1% of the property's last sale price (plus a modest 2% maximum annual inflator);
  • a test of the state recall provision, in which Governor Gray Davis was recalled in a 2003 special election.[citation needed]
  • a failure to pass a budget until almost three months after the constitutional deadline (2008).

Northern California's inland areas, the Central Valley, and Southern California outside Los Angeles County are mostly Republican areas. Coastal California, including such areas as the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles County and as well as Sacramento are mostly Democratic areas. As most of the population is in Los Angeles County and the San Francisco Bay Area, California as a whole tends to be liberal.

California was a Republican stronghold in presidential elections from 1952 until 1992. During this period, the Republicans won California in every election except the election of 1964. In these years, the GOP regularly nominated Californians as presidential candidates: Richard Nixon in 1960 and 1972, and Ronald Reagan in 1980 and 1984. Since then however, the Democrats have carried the electoral rich state since 1992. The immigration of Hispanic Americans and Asian Americans and migration of northern liberals, who tend to vote Democratic, and the flight of white, middle and upper-middle class suburbanites out of the state shifted the balance in favor of the Democratic Party.

Among the state's divisive issues are water and water rights, resulting in the California Water Wars. Lacking reliable dry season rainfall, water is limited and available surface sources are extensively developed through dams, canals, and pipelines. The principal water sources are mountain runoff from wet season rains and higher altitude snowpack (70%), wells (limited by salt-water incursion and overuse), and some Colorado River water supplying southern California (strictly limited by treaties with the other western states and Mexico). Waste water reclamation in California is already routine (for irrigation and industrial use). Most water is in the north of the State, while most people are in the south. Water viewed as excess by the south is viewed by the north as environmentally essential for agriculture, fisheries, and wildlife. While the southern electorate has a greater portion of the population it is not as unified in its viewpoint as is that of the north, so ballot propositions such as those promoting a Peripheral Canal to transport water to the south have failed.

Land use is also divisive. High land prices mean that ordinary people keep a large proportion of their net worth in land. This leads them to agitate strongly about issues that can affect the prices of their home or investments. The most vicious local political battles concern local school boards (good local schools substantially raise local housing prices) and local land-use policies. In built-up areas it is extremely difficult to site new airports, dumps, or jails. Many cities routinely employ eminent domain to make land available for development. A multi-city political battle was fought for several years in Orange County concerning the decommissioning of the huge El Toro Marine airbase. Orange County needs a new airport (pilot unions voted the existing airport, John Wayne, the least safe in the U.S.), but the noise could reduce land prices throughout the southern part of the county, including wealthy, politically powerful Irvine.[citation needed]

Gun control is another divisive issue, which stems at least partially from the fact that California's constitution does not explicitly guarantee the right for ordinary citizens to keep and bear arms. In the cities, California has one of the U.S.'s most serious gang problems, and in some farming regions, some of the highest murder rates. The state also contains many individuals who desire to keep and bear arms in defense of themselves, their families, and property. The legislature has passed restrictive gun control laws. Private purchase of "assault" weapons (generally, semi-automatic rifles that look like military rifles) is a felony. The law does not, however, prohibit sales of semi-automatic hunting-style civilian weapons, leading many to question the effectiveness of the cosmetic distinction. Pistols may be purchased and kept in one's home or place of business (however, they are required to be registered to the state and must be considered a "safe" handgun (see AB_1471), but it is illegal to carry weapons or ammunition outside these areas without a concealed weapons permit, except in a locked area (car trunk) to licensed practice ranges or other legitimate uses (hunting, repair, collection, etc.) Open carry of an unloaded firearm in some areas is legal but very uncommon due to the confusing web of state and federal laws, such as the Federal Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990, which makes it a felony to carry a gun within 1000 feet of a school, even without malicious intent. As of 2012, open carry of firearms is for the most part banned, with exceptions made for law enforcement, hunters, and individuals in rural areas of the state. Except in a handful of rural counties, most people find it impossible to get concealed weapons permits since they are issued at the discretion of the local law enforcement officials; California is not a "shall issue" state for concealed weapons permits. Because of the importance of local law enforcement's discretion, some counties are nevertheless virtually "shall issue" while others are de facto "no issue", leading to the peculiar situation of rural residents of one jurisdiction being able to legally carry their handguns in areas where the local residents cannot.

Influence of special-interest groups[edit]

Because California is the most populous state in the United States, legislation and policies that are enacted by the government of California often have significant implications on major political issues at the national level. Throughout the twentieth century, political decisions in California have wielded substantial influence with Congress while considering legislation at the federal level. Because of the potentially nationwide implications for political decisions made in California, special-interest groups, many of which are based outside of California, play a greater role in California politics than in most other states,[citation needed] by contributing large amounts of money into lobbying, litigation, and producing media advertisements to influence voters and elected officials on major political issues. The California Fair Political Practices Commission regulates campaign finance and lobbying in California.


Judicial influence[edit]

The California Supreme Court has "a reputation as perhaps the most innovative of the state judiciaries, setting precedents in areas of criminal justice, civil liberties, racial integration, and consumer protection that heavily influence other states and the federal bench."[4]

Bi-partisan gerrymandering[edit]

Congressional representation[edit]

The most populous state, California has the largest Congressional delegation of all the states with 53 representatives and two senators.

Many leading members of Congress are from California. Among the Democrats are:

  1. Rep. Nancy Pelosi from the 12th District (Minority Leader)
  2. Rep. George Miller from the 11th district (former Chairman of the Committee on Education and Labor)
  3. Rep. Henry Waxman from the 33rd district (former Chairman of the Committee on Energy and Commerce)
  4. Senator Barbara Boxer (Chairwoman of the Committee on Environment and Public Works)
  5. Senator Dianne Feinstein (Chairwoman of the Select Committee on Intelligence)

Among the Republicans are:

  1. Rep. Kevin McCarthy from the 23rd district (Majority Leader and former Majority Whip)
  2. Rep. Buck McKeon from the 25th district (Chairman of the Committee on Armed Services former Chairman of the Committee on Education and Labor)

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Dave Leip's Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections - Presidential General Election Results Comparison - California". 
  2. ^ http://www.sos.ca.gov/elections/elections_f.htm
  3. ^ "Report of Registration as of October 22, 2012". Retrieved 2014-02-09. 
  4. ^ Joann Lublin, "Trailblazing Bench: California High Court Often Points the Way for Judges Elsewhere," Wall Street Journal, 20 July 1972, 1.

External links[edit]

Archival collections[edit]

Other[edit]


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