Political Science

California Government and Politics


Fourteenth Edition

Mona Field Glendale Community College

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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Field, Mona. California government and politics today / Mona Field.—Fourteenth ed. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN-13: 978-0-205-25178-0 ISBN-10: 0-205-25178-1 1. California—Politics and government—1951- I. Title. JK8716.F54 2013 320.9794—dc23 2011048397

Copyright © 2013, 2011, 2009, 2007 by Mona Field. All rights reserved. Manufactured in the United States of America. This publication is protected by Copyright, and permission should be obtained from the publisher prior to any prohibited reproduction, storage in a retrieval system, or transmission in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or likewise. To obtain permission(s) to use material from this work, please submit a written request to Pearson Education, Inc., Permissions Department, One Lake Street, Upper Saddle River, New Jersey 07458, or you may fax your request to 201-236-3290.

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ISBN 10: 0-205-25178-1 ISBN 13: 978-0-205-25178-0

For my many friends and colleagues who

inspire me to learn more and do better.


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Contents Preface vii

CHAPTER 1 California Politics in Perspective 1

CHAPTER 2 The Californians: Land, People, and Political Culture 10

CHAPTER 3 California’s Historical Development 20

CHAPTER 4 Freedom and Equality: California’s Delicate Balance 28

CHAPTER 5 Media Influences and Interest Groups 38

CHAPTER 6 Political Parties and Other Voluntary Organizations 46

CHAPTER 7 Campaigns and Elections: Too Many? 54

CHAPTER 8 The California Legislature 64

CHAPTER 9 California’s Plural Executive: Governor Plus Seven 75

CHAPTER 10 Paying the Bills: California’s Budget Struggles 86

CHAPTER 11 California Courts and Judges 97

CHAPTER 12 Criminal Justice and Civil Law 106

CHAPTER 13 City Governments: Providing the Basics 115

CHAPTER 14 Counties, Special Districts, and Education K–Graduate 124

CHAPTER 15 Challenges for California’s Future 131

APPENDIX A Directory of Political Organizations That Anyone Can Join 140

APPENDIX B Communicating Your Views to Your Elected Officials 142

Glossary 143

Bibliography 147

Index 149


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Welcome to the Fourteenth Edition of California Government and Politics Today. After over 35 years in existence, this textbook’s mission is still to explain California’s ever-changing political situation in the context of social and economic trends. The focus remains on ethnic and cultural diversity, the global economy’s impact on California (and vice versa), and the emphasis on political involvement as an essential component of achieving the California Dream.

NEW TO THIS EDITION While the state is still an economic powerhouse, the current economic climate is the worst since the 1930s, and the long-term predicted population growth (50 million people by 2050) creates deep concerns about where and how everyone will live. This edition acknowledges the gloomy state of affairs in the Golden State, and reports on the economic downturn and political dysfunction that have so badly hurt California’s people and its reputation. New details about ongoing public cutbacks as well as increasingly urgent dilemmas regarding energy supplies, educa- tional opportunities, and political reform possibilities add depth to the basic information already in the text.

The new political districts for the legislature and Congress as well as the “top two” primary elections are explained, and recent actions such as the signing of the California DREAM Act and the appointment of former UC Berkeley professor Goodwin Liu to the state Supreme Court bring students up to date. A new focus in Chapter 14 on the two systems of public higher education (CSU and UC) helps students understand the governance and fiscal circumstances of our two public university systems. Other new and important information involves data from the most recent public opinion polls about the state and its future, much of it from the excellent work of the Public Policy Institute of California. As always, this text is designed to give students a broad background that enables them to understand, analyze, and interpret fast-changing events. To that end, and to engage students, the text includes interactive learning tools in each chapter that have been updated in this new edition.


viii Preface

Debating the Issues presents contrasting views of important political issues facing the state and can be used to spark classroom discus- sion. Each “Debating the Issues” box includes “Ask Yourself”—a brief question designed to stimulate thinking and research.

Compared to California provides unique insights about the political structures and processes of California by comparing them to the federal system, other states, and other nations.

Enjoying Media: Movies to See and Websites to Explore includes both documentaries and Hollywood fiction, as well as Websites that illuminate various aspects of California life.

ADDITIONAL LEARNING AIDS The text still includes “Questions to Consider” at the end of each chapter. All of these tools can be used to stimulate class discussion or to develop themes for essays and term papers. The book continues to feature numer- ous updated charts and maps, a glossary (defining terms that appear in italics in the text), a section dedicated to “How to Communicate with Your Elected Officials,” a bibliography for further reading, and a list of political organizations that students may wish to learn more about.

Students who want to reinforce their learning may take advantage of MySearchLab with Pearson eText. This book-specific website features a full, interactive eText; complete overviews of the entire writing and research process; and chapter-specific content such as learning objectives, quizzes, media, and flashcards to enrich learning and help students succeed.

For the benefit of instructors, a complete test bank is available.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS This edition has benefited from the input of colleagues from around the state, including Michael Bressler, Long Beach City College; Kathleen Holland, Los Angeles Pierce College; and Kimberly Naider, California State University–Sacramento. Thanks are also due to colleague Andra Verstraete from Glendale Community College, who always reminds me that the goal is a student-friendly textbook.

I thank everyone for their important input, which has enabled me to improve the book. I remain personally responsible for the final product, including its strengths and weaknesses. Further ideas and suggestions from colleagues are most welcome, so feel free to contact me directly with your comments.

As always, the goal remains to enlighten our students and help them achieve their share of the California Dream—in whatever form available.

Mona Field mfield@glendale.edu



California Politics in Perspective

California is in the midst of a surprising transformation from a migration magnet that supplies its needs from outside the state to a more self-contained society that depends on its present members. We have become a land of settled and increasingly committed residents who share a future together.

—Dowell Myers, University of Southern California Demographer.

As Californians move into the second decade of the twenty-first century, there are deep concerns about the quality of life in the Golden State. Is California on the edge of a major decline, with public education, state parks, social services, and other government activities getting cut so severely that the future is jeopardized? Or is state govern- ment undergoing a much-needed “live within our means” correction?

If you ask Governor Jerry Brown and the Democrats in the legisla- ture, it’s the former. But the Republican minority in the legislature claims it is the latter. Both sides claim to have popular support, and given the state’s red/blue divide, probably both are correct. California, despite having elected an all-Democratic executive branch, and having a huge Democratic majority in its legislature, still has a Republic core in the  Central Valley, the Inland Empire, and most of the northeast counties. The Democratic coast and urban areas may have more people, but the minority Republicans still have a veto over any taxes.

As Californians go about their lives, many of them completely obliv- ious to the drama in the state capitol, the question remains: Will the current budget cause long-term damage to children, to college students, to the disabled, and to the parks and beaches that beautify the state?

2 CHAPTER 1 ■ California Politics in Perspective

Or will government do less and individuals have to pay more for their services? And what does the future hold for Californians if things continue as they are?

Ironically, with all its budget messes, California remains a world economic power: If California were a separate nation, it would rank in the top ten nations in gross domestic production (GDP). California still leads the nation in population, although growth is slowing for the first time in the state’s history (see Table 1.1).

California is not alone among the states in suffering a severe eco- nomic downturn. The so-called Great Recession (2008–?), in which the state’s unemployment rate rose to record levels,1 only aggravates California’s status as a two-tier society, in which the contrasts between “haves” and “have-nots” are even more noticeable. The springboard for new economic growth has yet to emerge from today’s tough times


California’s Population: Growth Since Statehood

Year Population

1850 92,597 1860 379,994 1870 560,247 1880 864,694 1890 1,213,398 1900 1,485,053 1910 2,377,549 1920 3,426,861 1930 5,677,251 1940 6,907,387 1950 10,586,223 1960 15,717,204 1970 19,971,069 1980 23,667,902 1990 31,400,000 2010 37,253,956

Projected 2020 45,821,900 Source: U.S. Census Bureau, State Department of Finance.

National Impact: Setting Trends for the Country 3

although some experts place hopes on activities such as alternative energy development, public infrastructure construction, and “public– private partnerships” to get people working again.

NATIONAL IMPACT: SETTING TRENDS FOR THE COUNTRY At least in theory, based on the numbers, California remains among the most powerful states in the nation. The U.S. Census has repeat- edly confirmed that California is first in population, and therefore has the most members in Congress. The state has 53 of the 435 members of the House of Representatives and 55 electoral votes, more than a fifth of the 270 necessary to elect a president. Even with the slim possibility of population decline ahead, the state will retain the largest congressio- nal delegation, with Texas (32 seats) and New York (29 seats) far behind. One new element in the mix is the newly drawn Congressional districts (2011) that may result in some senior California congress members losing office in a national system where seniority is power.

Although having the most people should bring California the largest share of federal grants, funds, and contracts, the realities of Washington politics keep Californians sending more dollars to Washington, D.C., than they receive back in funds for state and local services. In 2002, California had over 12 percent of the nation’s population, contributed over 14 percent of total federal taxes, and received back 11 percent of federal dollars sent to states and localities.2


California Rest of United States Poor 13.1 11.9

Low income 32.9 30.1

Middle income 51.3 56.7

Affluent 15.8 13.3 Source: Deborah Reed, “Recent Trends in Income and Poverty,” California Counts, Public Policy Institute of California, Vol. 5, No. 3, February 2004, p. 9.

Think Critically: How do you feel about the poor? Who is responsible for helping those living in poverty? What is your role?


4 CHAPTER 1 ■ California Politics in Perspective

THE STATE AND ITS PEOPLE: POWER BLOCS IN CONFLICT Like most Americans, Californians are impacted most directly by their state and local political systems. The state determines the grounds for divorce; traffic regulations; public college tuition fees; penalties for drug possession; and qualifications one needs to become a barber, psychologist, or lawyer. It establishes the amount of unemployment compensation, the location of highways, the subjects to be taught in school, and the rates to be charged by telephone, gas, and electric companies. Along with the local governments under its control, it regulates building construction, provides police and fire protection, and spends about 15 percent of the total value of goods and services produced by California residents.

The policy decisions made in these and other areas are influenced by the distribution of political power among various groups with competing needs and aspirations. Some of the power blocs reflect the same conflicts of interest that the nation experiences: labor vs. business; landlords vs. tenants; and environmentalists vs. oil companies. But, as in so many things, these battles are fought on a grander scale in California. With its incredibly complex array of local governments, including over 3,400 special districts to provide everything from street lights to flood control, California’s political system almost defies understanding. No wonder that voters have shown their overall mistrust of elected officials and turned to ballot initiatives to make new laws and even to amend the state constitution.

These ballot initiatives, or propositions, deal with everything from juvenile crime to educational policy, from Indian gaming rights to the ever-present insurance industry issues. While political experts despise the use of initiatives to set public policy, ballot measures are big business. Virtually all propositions are placed on the ballot by special-interest groups, either organizations or wealthy individuals. Profitable petition- gathering companies charge several dollars per signature to get issues on the ballot. The outcome of these initiative battles usually depends on such factors as money, media, and the public mood.

THE STATE AND THE FEDERAL SYSTEM: A COMPLEX RELATIONSHIP Like the other states, California is part of the American federal system. Federalism distributes power to both the national and state govern- ments, thereby creating a system of dual citizenship and authority. It is a complex arrangement designed to assure the unity of the country while at the same time permitting the states to reflect the diversity of their people and economies. Although national and state authorities overlap in such areas as taxation and highway construction (examples of so-called concurrent powers), each level of government also has its own policy

The State and the Federal System: A Complex Relationship 5

domain. The U.S. Constitution gives the national government its powers, including such areas as immigration law, interstate commerce, foreign policy, national defense, and international relations. The states are permitted to do anything that is not prohibited or that the Constitution does not assign to the national government. Serious conflicts may occur when states challenge federal laws, such as California’s medical marijuana law, which voters approved through initiative (Proposition 215, 1996). The gap between federal drug enforcement and California’s more relaxed approach to marijuana use has yet to be resolved.

Within each state, the distribution of powers is unitary. This means that the cities, counties, and other units of local government get their authority from the state. States and their local bodies generally focus their powers on such services as education, public safety, and health and welfare.

Just as California has a mighty impact on the country as a whole, the national government exerts influence on the state. Federal funds often come with strings attached. For example, federal highway funds require specific safety laws, including seatbelt regulations, and even mandate the age at which individuals may purchase alcohol. In the San Joaquin Valley, California’s enormous agricultural center, federal water policies have led to vast croplands going dry, creating “dustbowls” and high unemployment where crops once grew.3

In other cases, federal policy fuels the state’s economy. For nearly 50 years, between World War II and the end of the Cold War, California’s private defense industry relied heavily on federal contracts to create a thriving military-based economy. Major corporations, such as Lockheed, Hughes, and Rockwell, enjoyed high profits and provided well- paying, secure jobs to engineers, managers, secretaries, and assembly-line workers. When the Cold War ended in 1989, this entire military contract system was suddenly downsized and many military bases closed, leaving a huge hole in the California economy. Federal stimulus money under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 held off some of the impacts of the severe recession, but those federal dollars will not continue indefinitely. California continues to seek other sources of economic growth, involving both public and private investment in computer software development, entertainment, tourism, public trans- portation, and biotechnology, including stem cell research (encouraged by a voter-approved bond measure in 2004).

While relations between the federal government and each state are complex and significant, the relations between states are also important. The U.S. Constitution requires every state to honor the laws of every other state, so that marriages and other contracts made in one state are respected in all states and criminals trying to escape justice cannot find safe haven by leaving the state in which they have been convicted.

Federalism’s distribution of powers permits states to enact their diverse policy preferences into law on such matters as gambling, prostitution, trash disposal, and wilderness protection, and thus encourages experiments that

6 CHAPTER 1 ■ California Politics in Perspective


Viewpoint: We must prepare California for the future by building roads, schools, water systems, and all the infrastructure for the projected future population.

– Immigration rates and birth rates will continue to increase, and the state must be able to provide for the people of the future.

– If we don’t prepare now, future Californians will suffer from inadequate housing, heavy traffic, crowded schools, and a reduced quality of life.

– No walls, fences, or immigration agents will be able to keep out people whose alternative is to stay in their country living in poverty.

– People will risk everything for a better life, so we should adapt our laws and infrastructure to accept their presence.

– The labor of immigrants will be needed in the future.

Viewpoint: We must reduce population growth by tightening federal immi- gration laws and finding a way to keep people from coming to California.

– California cannot sustain the people it has, and cannot absorb more.

– California’s congressional delegation and voters must insist on a tighter border using the latest technology to prevent illegal immigration.

– Developed nations cannot continue to absorb the world’s poor; we must find ways for less developed nations to advance their own economies so that their people can stay home.

Ask Yourself: How do today’s decisions impact the future quality of life in California?


may spread to other states. California has often served as the trial run on new political ideas that later spread to other states. Conservative themes such as tax revolts, anti-immigration sentiments, and the backlash against affirmative action all began as successful ballot propositions in California, while liberal ideas such as legalization of marijuana for medical purposes and government-provided health care for all also have become ballot battles.

Because federalism allows states great autonomy, and because California has developed a complex web of local governments, the average California voter must make numerous decisions at election time. Each Californian, whether or not a U.S. citizen, lives in a number of election jurisdictions, including a congressional district, a state Senate district, an Assembly district, and a county supervisorial district, plus (in most cases) a city, a school district, and a community college district. (See Figure 1.1

The State and the Federal System: A Complex Relationship 7

Partisan Offices

National Level Elected by Term Election Year President Entire state 4 years Years divisible by four U.S. Senators Entire state 6 years Every six years counting from 1992 Every six years counting from 1994 Members of Districts 2 years Even-numbered years Congress

State Level Governor1

Lt. Governor1

Secretary of State1 Entire state 4 years Even-numbered years when there is no presidential election Controller1


Attorney General1

Insurance Commissioner

Members of Board of Equalization1 Districts 4 years Same as governor State Senators1 Districts 4 years Same as governor for even-numbered districts Same as president for odd-numbered districts Assembly members2 Districts 2 years Even-numbered years

Nonpartisan Offices

State Level Superintendent of Public Instruction Entire state 4 years Same as governor Supreme Court justices Entire state 12 years Same as governor Court of Appeal justices Entire state 12 years Same as governor Superior Court judges Counties 6 years Even-numbered years

1Limited to two terms by Proposition 140 2Limited to three terms by Proposition 140

FIGURE 1.1 Federal and State Officials Elected by California Voters Source: League of Women Voters.

8 CHAPTER 1 ■ California Politics in Perspective

for the officials elected by California voters.) This array of political jurisdictions provides many opportunities to exercise democracy. It also creates confusion, overlaps, and many occasions on which voters feel unable to fully evaluate the qualifications of candidates or the merits of ballot propositions.

Other problems linked to federalism include outdated state boundar- ies that have created some “superstates,” with land masses and popula- tions that may be ungovernable, and differences in resources between states. California’s large territory could theoretically include two or three states. Meanwhile, variations in states’ resources perpetuate inequality in schools, public hospitals, and other government facilities at a time when the nation as a whole is concerned about how to provide these services. The federal system also promotes rivalry between states as they compete to attract new businesses (and jobs) or keep existing ones. Among the tactics used in this struggle are tax breaks, reduced worker compensation, and relaxed environmental protection standards. Even Hollywood, the historic center of the entertainment industry, is suffer- ing from runaway production, meaning the decisions to produce films, television shows, and commercials in places where costs are lower. On the larger international scale, thanks to globalization, products such as automobiles, clothing, and many other goods are increasingly manufac- tured abroad, because cheap labor and international treaties combine to create inexpensive products thus reducing domestic job opportunities. California is still a player; but without the long-term planning necessary to promote a productive economy, it remains unclear whether the state can regain some of its former successes.


Using Your Text and Your Own Experiences

1. What are some of the pros and cons of life in California? Do these depend in part on whether you live in a rural or an urban area?

2. What are some of the challenges facing our state? What can elected officials do to resolve these challenges? How do you fit into the challenges facing our state?

3. Take a class survey. How many students were born in California? How many are immigrants, either from another state or another nation? Team up so that an “immigrant” is paired with a “native” Californian. Teams or pairs can discuss the different experiences of those born here versus those who immigrated.

Endnotes 9


Movies to See and Web sites to Explore

California State Home Page ca.gov Portal to California’s Government, Tourism, Economy, etc.

Center for California Studies csus.edu/calst/index.html California State University Sacramento’s research institute covers politics and more.

Public Policy Institute of California ppic.org A nonprofit, nonpartisan independent research institute with a focus on economic issues.

Berkeley in the Sixties, Mark Kitchell, 1990 Documentary depicts Free Speech Movement during the 1960s at UC Berkeley and what happened to the student activists over the next two decades. Some of those student leaders ended up in the state legislature later in life.

El Norte, Gregory Nava, 1983 Guatemalans flee their country’s war by going north to California without documents (illegally). Gives a sense of what people are willing to endure in order to get to a better life in California.


1. Richard Walker and Ashok Bhardan, “California, Pivot of the Great Recession,” UC Berkeley Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, March 2010. http://metrostudies.berkeley.edu/pubs/reports/Walker_93.pdf.

2. Just the Facts: California’s Tax Burden, Public Policy Institute of California, June 2003.

3. Sonia Verma, “How Green Was My Valley: California’s Drought,” July 25, 2009. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/how-green-was-my- valley-californias-drought/article1230646/.



The Californians: Land, People, and Political Culture

If they can’t do it in California, it can’t be done anywhere. —Taylor Caldwell, author

The political process in California, as in other states, is conditioned by many geographic, demographic, and cultural influences. Whereas geography changes only slowly, population shifts and cultural influences can rather suddenly add new and unpredictable threads to the complex web that forms the state’s identity and future prospects.

GEOGRAPHIC INFLUENCES: WHERE ARE WE? With an area of 156,000 square miles, California is larger than Italy, Japan, or England and is the third largest state in the United States, following Alaska and Texas. It is shaped like a gigantic stocking, with a length more than twice its width. If California were superimposed on the East Coast, it would cover six states, from Florida to New York.1 Despite all the land available, the state’s primary urban development has been coastal, with the Bay Area and the Los Angeles Basin as the first areas of growth. More recently, the “Inland Empire” (San Bernardino and Riverside counties) and the San Joaquin Valley have experienced growth, leading to the term “the Third California,” although the huge number of home foreclosures and the high unemployment in these areas may ultimately impact growth predictions.2

While California’s size has contributed to its political dynamics, its location is equally important. As the leading state on what is called the Pacific Rim (those states bordering the Pacific Ocean and facing the Far East), California is the nation’s number one exporter. California is also one of only 15 states that border a foreign nation. In part as a result of its prox- imity to Mexico, Californians of Mexican descent have become the largest ethnic group in the state, one that includes both first- generation Mexican

Demographic Influences: Who Are We? 11

immigrants and “Chicanos,” whose parents or ancestors originally came from that country. Nearly half of California’s immigrants in recent years have come from Mexico,3 and as of the 2010 census, California had the largest Hispanic (from all nationalities) population of any state (14 million).4

Two other geographic influences command attention: rich natu- ral resources and spectacularly beautiful terrain. Between the majestic Sierra Nevada range along the eastern border and the Coastal Mountains on the west lies the Central Valley—one of the richest agricultural regions in the world. For generations, Central Valley farmers have used water supplies brought from the northern section of the state via the California Aqueduct, making California the nation’s leader in farm out- put, including the underground crop, marijuana (which is often grown on California’s “lost coast” in the northwest of the state).5 However, unpredictable water supplies (after a long drought, the state recently celebrated adequate water, at least for a while) make water distribu- tion a fierce battleground, pitting north versus south, rural versus urban areas, and environmentalists versus farmers.6 Over 40 percent of the state is forested, and this magnificent resource creates tension between those who want to protect forests and those who want to sustain some form of lumber industry, and, in one particular region, those who want Sonoma wine-grapes grown on those same lands.7 California has plenti- ful oil, some of which lies off the 1,000-mile-long coast in locations that have been protected for decades from drilling, although efforts to restart offshore drilling in Santa Barbara were recently renewed and defeated in the state legislature.8

Although agriculture, timber, and oil remain economically impor- tant as well as environmentally controversial, another natural resource has become the subject of continual political debate over how much to exploit it: California’s landscape. Ranging across arid deserts, a 1,000-mile shoreline, and remote mountain wilderness, the terrain itself is a con- tinuing battlefield between conservationists and commercial recreation developers, with the state’s need for tourism competing with the preserva- tion approach. Much of California is owned by the public; the state boasts 43 national parks, forests, recreation areas, and monuments, plus its own vast acreage of public lands, including 270 state parks and beaches, some of which are now closed or operated by private vendors due to state budget cuts.9 Although California includes vast undeveloped lands, Californians are a largely urban people, with over 80 percent living in cities.10

DEMOGRAPHIC INFLUENCES: WHO ARE WE? With rare, short-term exceptions, modern California has a consistent pattern of population growth. Although recent economic slowdowns push more people to leave the state to find work or less expensive places

12 CHAPTER 2 ■ The Californians: Land, People, and Political Culture

to live, the total number of Californians continues to increase as a result of birth rates (49 percent of population growth), domestic immigration (11 percent), and international immigration (40 percent of total growth).11 Californians over 65 years old will comprise almost 20 percent of the total population,12 with vast implications for health care and other services needed by seniors. Long-term predictions suggest that the state will have nearly 47 million people by the year 2025, creating enormous challenges regarding housing, education, health care, transportation, water supplies, and environmental quality. Demographers still predict that California will likely remain the most populous state, with over 12 percent of the nation’s people, and with a Latino majority by 2016.13 All population data are questionable, however, because some people unfortunately refuse to participate in the U.S. Census, and the Census Bureau acknowledges its own struggles to accurately count Californians.14

California also continues to be the most diverse state, with residents from virtually every nation and ethnic group on the planet. There is


Viewpoint: Immigrants should learn American customs, learn English, and adopt our ways of life quickly and thoroughly.

– Social harmony and basic daily communication suffer when people live in ethnic enclaves and speak only their original language.

– The costs to government and society of offering bilingual education, multilingual election materials, court interpreters, etc., should be eliminated and the money used for other needs.

– People who remain isolated in ethnic communities are more likely to be victims of crime because they lack knowledge of our laws and customs.

Viewpoint: Immigrants should retain their languages, their culture, and customs no matter how long they live in California.

– California’s rich culture is enhanced by the huge variety of languages, events, and traditions that exist here.

– People can retain their language and customs and still learn English, becoming multicultural.

– A “monotone” society of one huge blended culture would reduce economic and social options for all.

Ask Yourself: In your community, what is the current balance of diversity and assimilation? How do you feel about it? Why?


Demographic Influences: Who Are We? 13

no “majority” group, and California has more people who identify themselves as “multiracial” than any other state.15 (Figure 2.1 breaks down the workforce by ethnic group.) About 25 percent of Californians were born in other nations, with the top three “sending nations” being Mexico, the Philippines, and Vietnam.16 California has more undoc- umented immigrants (2.7 million) than any other state, but more recently, the recession itself has reduced illegal immigration, as the word gets out that there are fewer jobs for the low-skilled.17 Ongoing international immigration adds to the state’s socioeconomic gaps, since even two- parent working immigrant families are often living at poverty level, giving California the nation’s highest poverty rates.18 Immigrant communities (and even many individual families) are a complex combi- nation of undocumented immigrants, legal residents, political refugees, and foreign-born naturalized U.S. citizens. Many immigrants spend years in paperwork as they wait for the federal Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (formerly known as the Immigration and Naturalization Service) to process their applications and move them from refugee status to legal resident, or from resident to citizen status. Both legal and illegal immigrants who are not citizens make up nearly 20 percent of Californians, none of whom can vote, yet all of whom are affected by electoral decisions.19 During the transition years, assimila- tion takes place to varying degrees, as individuals decide whether to learn English, how much education to seek, and how much to “Americanize” their customs.

Whether they are citizens or residents, concentrations of immigrant ethnic groups have already altered the social and political landscape

0 10 20 30 40 50 60%


Asian and Other



1990 Total Pop. = 14.9 mil.

2010 Total Pop. = 20.8 mil.









FIGURE 2.1 California Labor Force by Ethnic Group, 1990–2010: Percentage of Labor Force Population Source: Center for Continuing Study of the California Economy.

14 CHAPTER 2 ■ The Californians: Land, People, and Political Culture

in many California communities. Out of choice or necessity, ethnic enclaves develop wherever a group puts down roots, their presence reflected in the language of storefront signs, distinctive architecture, and types of food available. Daly City is called “Little Manila,” and Fresno is home to 30,000 Hmong, members of a Laotian hill tribe. Sacramento has a large Slavic community; Stockton has 35,000 refugees from several areas of Indochina; Glendale has a substantial concentration of Armenians; Westminster, in Orange County, has a section known as “Little Saigon”; and Monterey Park, the first city in the continental United States with an Asian majority,20 is 56 percent Chinese. One-fourth of the children in California’s public schools are considered “English learners,” with some large school districts serving as many as 80 language groups.21

During recessions, when job losses and related fears of the future create anxiety, negativity against immigrants sometimes rises, and both immigrants and American-born ethnic minorities may become victims of harassment or prejudice. Because people often judge others based on appearance, American-born Latinos and Asians may be subject to  prejudices and discrimination based on either ethnic stereotypes or anti-immigrant attitudes. Meanwhile, African Americans, the third largest ethnic minority group, continue to see their numbers decline in proportion to the fast-growing Latino and Asian communities, with resulting concerns about how blacks can compete successfully for educational, economic, and political opportunities while other ethnic groups begin to dominate numerically.

Population diversity, of course, embraces far more than ethnicity. Collectively, Californians seem to embody virtually the whole range of religious beliefs, including 21 percent who belong to no religion. California, being 36 percent Protestant, 31 percent Roman Catholic, 3 percent Jewish, and 9 percent “other,” has no “majority religion.” Like many Americans, a large number of Californians refer to themselves as “spiritual” rather than religious, and one-third of Californians seldom or never enter a house of worship.22

Another of California’s diverse groupings is the gay community, whose desire for the right to marry has created enormous political battles, including the continuing political fallout over Proposition 8  (November 2008). Nearly 60 percent of Californians state that “homosexuality should be accepted,” yet just over half voted to ban gay marriage. Other issues include the rights of gay or lesbian couples to adopt children, and the general recognition of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender (GLBT) individuals. Gay bashing, a form of violent hos- tility (and a hate crime), in which an individual is attacked for his or her perceived sexual orientation, brings tragic consequences and outrage. Though still a distinct minority, the seven-member GLBT caucus of the state legislature includes legislators who are openly homosexual and who unite to represent this portion of the population.

California’s Political Culture: How We Think 15

CALIFORNIA’S POLITICAL CULTURE: HOW WE THINK Each state has a distinctive political style that is shaped not only by its geography and population characteristics but also by the values and attitudes shared by most of its people. These elements constitute what is sometimes called the political culture. In a state so diverse, there are multiple worlds, subcultures for everything from religious communi- ties and ethnic groups to organizations bonded by their love of antique cars, native plants, folk dancing, or a myriad of other personal interests. Increasingly, these divergent groups do not share any political or social framework from which to make coherent public policy choices.

In terms of socioeconomic differences, California is more of a two-tier state than some others. In fact, California is multitiered, with huge gaps between those at the top and those at the bottom of the income levels. During both economic growth periods and declines, the major cause of vast inequalities in household incomes is the increasing gap between private corporate salaries and the low-wage working poor. The incomes of the wealthiest 5 percent of families increased by 50 percent between the late 1970s and late 1990s, while the poorest fifth of the state’s families lost 5 percent of their income during the same period.23 Middle-income families have been seriously damaged by the current recession, with home foreclosures, layoffs, and bankruptcies creating downward mobility for thousands of Californians.

Unlike the highest income earners, Californians of modest or low incomes are challenged by the high cost of housing,24 inadequate health care for the one-fifth of Californians who are uninsured, and the increas- ing cost of public higher education opportunities. Decisions made by Sacramento have led to enormous increases in the cost of tuition at the University of California, California State University, and public com- munity colleges (Figure 2.2), while public health-care options have also been severely reduced by the state. Policy experts warn that if California cannot educate its future workforce adequately, the state’s economic strengths will be seriously undermined.25

With all the economic and social difficulties they face, it’s no surprise that Californians may use their votes to show serious frus- tration with their political leaders. In 2003, voters used the recall process to remove Governor Gray Davis and replace him with Arnold Schwarzenegger. Then in both 2005 and 2009, voters defeated an array of ballot measures promoted by Governor Schwarzenegger as his solutions for the state. California’s electorate continues to be mostly white, older, and more affluent, even though the population of the state is diverse, young, and of moderate or low income. Even with a large push for “vote by mail,” in which people vote by mailing in their ballots before election day, and with some counties experimenting with

16 CHAPTER 2 ■ The Californians: Land, People, and Political Culture









20.7% 20.8%




















Bay Area San Diego Santa Barbara Monterey Bay Region

Southern California Sacramento Area San Joaquin Valley

2005 2005

High School Bachelor Graduate/Professional

2005 2005 2005 2005

FIGURE 2.2 Educational Attainment Source: Share of Population by Highest Level of Education 2005.

touch-screen voting, potential voters too often ignore their opportunity to determine electoral outcomes.

Although not all eligible citizens bother to vote, the recognition of government’s power motivates many Californians to form political asso- ciations to represent their views. Because of the ethnic, socioeconomic, and cultural diversity of the state, California is home to a wide variety of political organizations. The ideologies behind many of the organizations can be simplistically summarized by the traditional labels of American politics: conservative and liberal. The conservative side of California politics is torn between those who support maximum freedom for both business and individuals and those who like free enterprise but prefer government to regulate personal behavior such as sexuality and abortion. These uneasy partners form the basis of the California Republican Party, and their areas of agreement are primarily linked to limiting taxes and decreasing government activities through privatization. Moderate Republicans, especially women, often feel conflicted between their beliefs in smaller government and lower taxes and their desire for the right to abortion. Republicans running for governor may win a primary by being a strict conservative, but in the general election, Republicans rarely win unless they are pro-choice and pro-gay rights.

On the other side of the political spectrum, the liberal move- ment in California has deep roots, holding firm to a belief in the value of government as a mechanism to improve people’s lives. Liberals generally advocate positions which favor a woman’s right to control her reproductive future; full gay rights, including gay marriage; and support

Enjoying Media 17

for labor unions and universal health care. Being too liberal is prob- ably just as bad for a California politician as being too conservative; the voters statewide trend toward the middle. But political labels are only one aspect of California’s complex polity: Many Californians are uninter- ested in traditional political labels and, in the noble American pragmatic tradition, just want to solve problems. At the moment, the Golden State has plenty of problems to face and resolve.


Using Your Text and Your Own Experiences

1. What is the relationship between California’s geography (size, location, topography, etc.) and its economic and political situation?

2. What are some of the pros and cons of the state’s ethnic diversity? 3. Discuss the issue of social and economic inequality. What problems

are caused by the vast gaps between rich and poor? Are there any advantages to having a two-tier society?


Movies to See and Web sites to Explore

U.S. Census Data census.gov Massive amounts of statistics about demographics, population, and trends in society.

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