Prop Zero
The Starting Point for Commentary and Coverage of California Politics

The Results: Californians Won't Embrace Change

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Jerry Brown and Barbara Boxer have just won the California gubernatorial and Senate races. Whatever you think of Boxer's and Brown's politics, in embracing them California -- a place famous for the new -- is leaning on the old and the familiar, at a time of great political change elsewhere.

What does this mean? It means that this is a Democratic state. It means that Whitman and Fiorina, for all their wealth and CEO experience, couldn't make the sale with voters.

But it also sends a remarkable message about politics in California. Even at a time of persistent governing crisis, and record high levels of public discontent with government in California, voters aren't willing to embrace change here.

Brown's restoration to power (on a campaign platform with strong echoes of the incumbent Schwarzenegger's policies) and Boxer's re-election to a fourth term are the least of it. California won't make changes in its Congressional delegation, even as Congress sees a huge shift in power. The partisan make-up of the state legislature will stay the same. Most initiatives appear to be going down.

If Californians are so unhappy, why don't they vote for change? Here are three reasons.

1. Lack of alternatives. In a two party system, it's up to the minority party to come up with acceptable challengers. And the California Republican Party is losing members and financial support. The institution that should develop challengers is in crisis.

2. Many Californians have given up on voting. At least 60 percent of the 23.5 million Californians eligible to vote didn't cast ballots this fall. After years of frustration and persistent crisis, Californians are dropping out of the electorate.

3. Voters have no way to make change via elections. The system of legislative elections is broken; because of its size and scale and gerrymandering, voters can't change the party in control of the legislature. And they don't know their representatives. The ballot initiative process is open only to the rich people and interests with the millions of dollars needed to qualify measures and run campaigns. And the complicated California system, full of two-thirds supermajorities, limits the power of the governor and other elected officials. So the people that Californians elect can't do all that much.

California's governing system is broken. This election is merely more evidence of this.

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