Jerry Brown

Gov. Jerry Brown speaks at a climate change summit at UC San Diego. California’s Democrats are led by Brown, who, while liberal in some respects, has served as a brake on more leftward elements of his party. (Lenny Ignelzi / Associated Press)

Cathleen Decker
October 31, 2015

For decades, Californians prided themselves on cutting the path to be trod later by national political figures. Ronald Reagan rose first on the West Coast and spread eastward with his election as president. The anti-tax movement likewise moved from west to east, grounded by the historic approval of Proposition 13’s property tax limitations in 1978.

This year, the state’s Democrats and Republicans are moving, in some key ways, in exactly the opposite direction from the national parties.

National Democrats, as a glance at the presidential contest demonstrates, are feeling intense pressure to move to the left. Hillary Rodham Clinton, hardly a conservative when left to her own devices, has moved left on criminal justice, immigration and economic policies as she seeks to put down a surprisingly strong challenge by an independent socialist, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

Among Republicans vying for the 2016 presidential nomination, the race to the right has taken on the appearance of a stampede. Gone is the past support of some candidates for dealing with immigrants in the country illegally, or support of more moderate policy changes on healthcare or education.

Contrast that with the positioning of California’s Democrats and Republicans.

The state’s Democrats are led by Gov. Jerry Brown, who, while liberal in some respects, has served as a brake on more leftward elements of his party. An increasingly forceful presence in the party —while still a rabble-rousing minority — are those pushing conservative-for-a-Democrat positions on government pensions, organized labor and education policy.
We are doing what is right for our party. We can’t take responsibility for the national party and the national candidates. – Harmeet Dhillon, vice chair of the California Republican Party

The divergence with the nationals is even more pronounced among state Republicans. The party’s 2014 candidate for governor, Neel Kashkari, favored abortion rights and gay marriage, the almost universal opposite of GOP presidential candidates. Some may discount his positions because he was, more than anything, a sacrificial lamb. But there’s more evidence.

Earlier this year, state Republicans offered an official embrace to a chapter of Log Cabin Republicans, the gay group that previously had not been formally acknowledged. And in late September, delegates to the state party’s convention approved platform wording that Republicans “hold diverse views” about millions of immigrants in the country without proper papers. It also omitted language that said allowing them to stay “undermines respect for the law.”

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