California’s One-Party State, the Blue Wave Machine

As the electorates in political battlegrounds across America endure what may be weeks of turmoil, in California the post-election environment is that of a mature one-party state. The population is quiescent, having at last count rejected President Trump by a more than two-to-one margin.

In California, it doesn’t matter that only 11.5 million votes have been reported, when 21 million voters received mailed ballots. The ruling party has everything working in its favor.

The Republicans had to scrap for every donation, with most GOP donors considering California a lost cause and sending their money out of state. The Democrats, on the other hand, had mega-donors willing to spend any amount, joined by public sector unions that, year after year, collect and spend nearly $1 billion in dues from government workers.

This outrageous financial disparity—all the more decisive because of its perennial, unceasing reliability—pays for a trained field army of public sector union activists who are mustered by the thousands every election season and joined by activists, often paid, from California’s powerful network of environmentalist and social justice pressure groups. There is absolutely nothing remotely comparable on the Republican side.

This translates into ballot harvesting on an epic scale, but it also translates into superior messaging. Political consulting and public relations are a lot like professional baseball. The best players get hired, at astronomical rates, by the richest owners. In California, the A-Team works for Democrats, because year after year, the Democrats throw down more money. A lot more money.

Election observers with decades of experience in California politics are shaking their heads. Nothing is known. There’s a record turnout, but how many people is that? In 2016, 14.2 million Californians cast a ballot. How many of those 21 million mailed ballots will be returned and counted? That will eventually be known, but don’t hold your breath. The California State Legislature has deemed that any ballots postmarked by November 3 can be received up to 14 days later, November 17.

But in California, why worry? In the one-party state, elections are a formality, sort of like they are in places like North Korea. The only difference is North Korea’s tyranny is overt and brutal, whereas California’s remains more akin to Huxley’s Brave New World, with Sexophones and Soma lulling the voters into believing whatever they’re told to believe.

As it is, from the results so far, the one-party state may actually pad its dominance in the state legislature. Half of the state senators face reelection this year, and of the 20 seats, GOP candidates are only leading in two races, with both of those too close to call. One of the brightest GOP Senators, John Moorlach, may be headed for defeat. His story exemplifies what Republicans are up against.

Moorlach, the only certified public accountant in California’s state legislature, made the mistake of explaining to that handful of financially literate Democratic senators (a few do exist) how to reform public sector pensions before they bankrupt the state. For that, and despite his strong record of support for law enforcement, Moorlach earned the enmity of the prison guards union, which poured money into the campaign of his Democratic opponent. Moorlach stepped on the wrong toes, and in California politics, that’s a sure path to oblivion.

Republicans at this point are not doing any better in the state assembly races, where all 80 seats are up for grabs. Only 19 of those races currently show a GOP candidate in the lead, and 13 of those are too close to call. Most of the races aren’t close at all. In four of them, there isn’t even a GOP candidate on the ballot, thanks to California’s “top-two” primary system.

While Republicans have picked up a few congressional seats elsewhere in America, not so much in California. In 2018, the year Tom Steyer and the public sector unions perfected ballot harvesting, California’s share of the state’s whopping 53 congressional seats dropped from a paltry 14 to an abysmal seven. As of noon on November 4, Republicans led in 10 of them, not exactly a complete claw back. And of those 10, only three, the 4th Congressional District held by the redoubtable Tom McClintock, the 22nd Congressional District held by the great Devin Nunes, and the 23rd Congressional District held by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, have been called. The rest are cliffhangers.

When it comes to early returns versus final returns, California’s Republicans have little cause for optimism. Harvested ballots, due to the far more professional and pervasive harvesting operations of the Democrats, tend to skew heavily Democratic. They also tend to get counted late. The wild card remains the cache of mailed-in ballots, where some GOP optimists claim the majority of ballots mailed at the last minute came from seniors who skew Republican.

If there is any reason for hope in California, it is with respect to some of the state ballot initiatives. 

California’s voters have the ability to pass laws and constitutional amendments, and they voted on 12 of them this election. Notable among these were Proposition 15, which would raise property taxes, and Proposition 16, which would resurrect racial preferences in hiring, college admissions, and state contracts, and Proposition 21, which would allow statewide rent control. Early returns show all three of these losing, which means Californians haven’t totally lost their minds.

Early returns also show voters approving Proposition 22, which would allow rideshare app drivers to continue to work as independent contractors. But even this is a mixed bag. The only reason it may pass is that Big Tech companies spent more than $90 million to promote it, yet in the initiative they wrote and put onto the ballot, they were unwilling to protect the rights of other independent contractors, such as court reporters, real estate appraisers, translators, caregivers, and countless others.

And on the other hand, it looks like Californians will not approve Proposition 20, which would have restored stronger penalties for property and drug crimes. How Californians expect to get their streets back, when they’ve effectively legalized theft and the distribution and use of hard drugs, is anybody’s guess.

All in all, there isn’t much good news coming out of California today. 

And will any of it hold up? In 2018, early returns had Democrats trailing in all but one of the GOP-held seven districts they eventually flipped. More recent evidence of how ballot harvesting favors Democratic candidates and causes in California comes from the March 2020 primary, in an analysis of nearly 100 local tax and bond proposals. Early results had 33 percent of local bonds and 31 percent of local taxes leading, whereas final counts showed 39 percent of local bonds and 48 percent of local taxes being approved by voters. Nearly every contest deemed too close to call in the early tallies ended up passing in the final count. 

And while Californians in March 2018 did not approve new local taxes and bonds in the percentages they’ve done historically, the Democratic machine just keeps putting them on the ballot until they do get passed. This November, nearly 300 were on the ballot.

The lessons from the 2018 general election and the 2020 primary in California seem to be that ballot harvesting favors Democrats, mail-in ballots are a wild card, and every political advantage that can possibly be deployed—money, professional consulting, paid foot soldiers, and support from all forms of media—overwhelmingly favors Democrats.

California is a blue wave machine. Melded with the corrupt big-city Democratic machines in their urban strongholds from Minneapolis to Atlanta, and with the complicity of every co-opted American institution, they are going to be tough to stop.

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About Edward Ring

Edward Ring is a senior fellow of the Center for American Greatness. He is also the director of water and energy policy for the California Policy Center, which he co-founded in 2013 and served as its first president. Ring is the author of Fixing California: Abundance, Pragmatism, Optimism (2021) and The Abundance Choice: Our Fight for More Water in California (2022).

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