California–Yes, California!– Shows Us That Government Can Function

Something very strange is wafting in from the Left Coast. I think it is called sanity.

Long derided as the “land of fruits and nuts” and the poster child for official disfunction, California has turned itself into a model for diminished partisanship and adult legislative behavior.

The state has turned a gigantic deficit into a surplus and renounced the toxic partisanship that had regularly led to budgetary gridlock–not to mention the recall of a governor not so many years ago. As the New York Times recently noted,

 But in the past month, California has been the stage for a series of celebrations of unlikely legislative success — a parade of bill signings that offered a contrast between the shutdown in Washington and an acrimony-free California Legislature that enacted laws dealing with subjects including school financing, immigration, gun control and abortion.

The turnaround from just 10 years ago — striking in tone, productivity and, at least on fiscal issues, moderation — is certainly a lesson in the power of one-party rule. Democrats hold an overwhelming majority in the Assembly and Senate and the governor, Jerry Brown, is a Democrat. The Republican Party, which just three years ago held the governor’s seat and a feisty minority in both houses, has diminished to the point of near irrelevance.

Political scientists in the state credit several recent reforms for the turnaround–especially the abandonment of gerrymandering in favor of nonpartisan redistricting. As a result, Representatives are no longer beholden to rabid base voters in deep red or deep blue districts, and thus fearful of “getting primaried.”

Unlike candidates in carefully drawn partisan districts, Republicans running for office in California are no longer  insulated from demographic shifts. That’s particularly important in states like California, where growing Latino and Asian populations tend to vote for progressives. One Republican quoted in the Times article acknowledged that the redistricting–along with changes to a nonpartisan primary system– were “freeing lawmakers from obedience to their party bases.”

Majority rule should reflect the will of real majorities. Gerrymandering has given minority factions a veto over majority preferences–it has enabled a sort of legislative “ju jitsu,” the results of which we have recently seen all too clearly.

Here in Indiana, we can choose to be Texas or we can choose to be California.

We should emulate California, but the signs aren’t auspicious.