Dan Walters: 2012 was a good year for Dems

December 31, 2012 

When political historians look back on 2012, they might well conclude that it was one of those years that mark the end of one era and the beginning of another.

Just as we talk about the events before and after the advent of the full-time, professional Legislature in 1966, the passage of Proposition 13 in 1978, or the adoption of legislative term limits in 1990, so 2012 could mark the last gasp of the Republican Party as a political factor, and the solidification of Democratic Party dominance.

Democrats have said for years that if they could just rid themselves of Republican interference in the Legislature, they could restore California's economic and cultural luster. And they achieved that status this year, holding every statewide office, gaining two-thirds supermajorities in the Legislature and seeing the GOP reduced to a shell of its once-potent self.

Republicans are flat-broke while Democratic constituencies, especially public employee unions, demonstrated anew this year that they can raise and spend tens of millions on campaigns. Much of that money was spent to preserve unions' fund-raising prowess and pass a tax increase on the wealthy that long had been their goal.

With elections for the governorship and other state offices, as well as for legislative and congressional seats, looming in 2014, Republicans could see their thin legislative and congressional ranks decline even more, and they have absolutely no viable statewide candidates on the horizon. Moreover, there's much internal discord in the state GOP over what to do about its status.

Simply put, the Democrats now own California. Whatever occurs in the political realm in 2013 and beyond -- perhaps decades beyond -- will be on them, and California's political conflicts will no longer be Democrat versus Republican but Democrat versus Democrat.

As we have seen in localities with one-party dominance -- San Francisco by Democrats or Orange County by Republicans -- hegemony tends to breed internal conflict. Dominant parties tend to fragment into factions, which evolve into quasi-parties.

Fragmentation may occur along ethnic lines or may reflect personal rivalries or minute shades of ideology.

Just weeks after Democrats achieved their long-sought supermajorities, the Legislature is already beginning to display similar tendencies and legislative leaders may find it difficult to wield the power they hold on paper.

Whatever happens, this new era will be fascinating to watch.


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