Friday, October 23, 2009

Politics: California Leading? Ugh

TORONTO, ONTARIO - For essentially my entire lifetime, the state of California has been viewed as the leading edge of culture in the United States. Just about every trend that has swept the country, from strict emission standards for vehicles to the use of wireless Internet access to moving well beyond one's region every few years has been credited to the state. If you wanted to look to the future, the zeitgeist stated, looked to what was happening in California. For the sake of the future of the country, we'd better hope that's not the case in politics.

While reading a Andrew Gelman entry on that seemed pretty obscure on the political ideology of a Republican candidate for Congress in the state of New York, I found a graph by Boris Shor on the ideological makeup of state legislature that struck me as the buried lead of the story. Take a look by following this link and scrolling down to the graph.

The graph shows the ideological positions of each member of state legislatures grouped by party. In quite a few states, there is overlap between Democrats and Republicans, meaning that there are centrists in both parties to potentially work out compromises. In a handful of states, there is no overlap, but nowhere is the gap wider than in California, which is at the bottom of the graph. Nearly the entire span of either party separates the parties apart. No state has more conservative Republicans in its legislature than the most conservative Republicans in California, and only New York and Maryland have any Democrats that are more liberal than the most liberal Democrats in the state assembly in California.

That's pretty much all one needs to know about the dysfunction in California government. The parties are so far apart that there is no room for compromise, and really no ground on which to even have a conversation. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is not shown on the chart, but based on the legislation and budgets he has supported in the past two years, I suspect that he falls somewhere in that gap. He can't reach the Democrats, and he certainly can't reach the Republicans, the party of which he claims to be a member, as he is not nearly as ideological as his colleagues in the assembly. It's no wonder they can't pass a budget.

The United States Congress also isn't plotted on the graph, but believe it or not, there is overlap in ideology between the the two parties there--and it's no secret how polarized the two bodies there have become, and how difficult it is to gain bi-partisan support even for apple pie. If California continues to be a trend setting state, then it's only going to get worse at the national level, and there's no way that would be a good thing.

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