In Tuesday’s election, the California Democratic Party won fifty-three out of eighty seats in the state Assembly, and twenty-six out of forty votes in the state Senate, securing between 65 and 66% of seats in the California legislature.
These results marked a smashing victory for the California Republican Party, which will, on the basis of their electoral rout, continue to govern California from the minority thanks to undemocratic supermajority rules.
In most political environments, winning barely a third of the votes would make for a landslide defeat. But not in California. Governing the most populous and diverse state in the union requires the ability to manage revenues and direct them towards critical social spheres in the state, which is facing a serious social crisis thanks to growing economic inequality and the impoverishment of its public sphere.
However, a mere majority is insufficient to govern, because control over the state’s revenue requires a supermajority in both houses of the legislature. The Republican Party is dedicated to tearing down the public sphere at the behest of its corporate and fundamentalist sponsors, and so given the state’s demographic trajectory, all it needs to implement its agenda is one third plus one of the legislators in a single house of government.
It was a move a long in the making, but the University of California’s decision to call for additional tuition increases over the next five years is in some ways a reaction to the continued austerity that will define the state’s public sphere. Even with supermajorities, Democrats would have been hard-pressed to launch any reinvigoration of the public institutions that provide both the human safety net and economic spark for the state because of the opposition of conservative Governor Jerry Brown.
But the continued ability of the Republican Party—thanks to supermajority rules laid down by Proposition 13—to dominate and control discussions and policies around revenue and spending allow the UC Regents to continue their de facto privatization under the guise of fiscal necessity, imposed by the state.
Californians who care about the health of their public sphere, and the ability of all members of the state community to access the institutions associated with that sphere, should press for democratic reform. The state needs elections in which winning large majorities actually translates into the ability to govern. The state needs a fairer form of political representation. And California needs an overhaul of our overburdened Constitution and mangled governing system. The past decades of divestment and gridlock have not provoked a response from a quiescent—and culpable—citizenry. But perhaps the prospect of continued failures and the loss of control over public universities might spark some outrage.