The voters who made these rules over the past 25 years tended to be older, whiter, more racially anxious, and sometimes intoxicated by what they heard on talk radio. California has embraced an exuberantly public celebration of diversity everywhere except in the voting booth. Latinos have been the largest minority since 1970 and now represent about 32 percent of the state’s population. Asians make up 12 percent; African-Americans are 7 percent. Non-Latino whites, many of them the children of Okie and Arkie immigrants from the 1930s through the 1960s, account for about 48 percent. But at the polls, Anglos represent 73 percent of voters.
Ethnicity isn’t the only divide. Younger residents, regardless of ethnicity, who move to new fringe subdivisions are more likely than Californians generally to vote for candidates who want to limit state programs and services. These disparities reinforce a perception that some Californians, who just made it into the middle class and often with some help from state programs, are ready to pull up the ladder that could lead newer immigrants out of the barrio and the ghetto.
In fairness, California has grown so fast and become so diverse that Californians haven’t yet found how to manage the changes. They invited in an immigrant multitude to mow their lawns and tend their babies, and then they grew fearful of the immigrants’ fecundity and loyalty. They blame government for being too remote, and then they don’t send men and women like themselves to serve as their representatives. They’re quick to be resentful when prodded by the machinery of attack politics, and then they’re just as quick to be forgetful. They want every voter to be a ballot-box legislator, and then they don’t bother to vote.
Other states should pay attention. While the reasons are not precisely the same, states as different as Oregon and Connecticut are showing the symptoms of ungovernability.
Poor, ungovernable California — a state with term limits, “supermajority” hurdles, easy recall laws, a crushing state deficit and a “no compromise” political culture. Hapless Governor Davis hardly had a chance to escape the catastrophe of October 7. He was just following the rules.
D.J. Waldie is the author of Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir.