Monday, March 2, 2009

California gains political power

With a Democratic President now in office as well as a House Speaker, two power senators and various congresspersons chairing important subcommittees, there's been a large but potentially unnoticed shift of power from the South to California. But will these newly powerful liberals over-reach? A story in The Economist ponders the question:

THE 2008 election did not just put a new president in the White House. It also completed one of the biggest shifts in the regional balance of power in America’s recent history, draining influence away from the once-mighty South and redistributing it to the coasts. This will help determine who gets what from Barack Obama’s attempts to stimulate and reshape the economy.

The biggest winner from this internal revolution is America’s biggest state, California. Nancy Pelosi, who has been speaker of the House since 2007, is no longer restrained by a Republican president. Californians run two of the most powerful committees in the House: Energy and Commerce (Henry Waxman), Education and Labour (George Miller), plus an important subcommittee on intelligence (Jane Harman)...

Californian number-plates will not be as ubiquitous as Texan ones used to be in the White House car park. But Mr Obama has nominated several Californians to leading positions in his administration besides Mr Panetta: Hilda Solis, a former congresswoman, to run the Labour Department, Steven Chu, a former head of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, to Energy, Nancy Sutley, a former deputy mayor of Los Angeles, to run the Council on Environmental Quality.

The rise of California is matched by the fall of the South. Southern politicians have long punched above their weight in Washington. Southern Democrats such as Lyndon Johnson and Sam Rayburn dominated Congress before the civil-rights era.

The rise of the modern Republican Party projected a succession of southern conservatives to the pinnacle of power—Newt Gingrich and Dick Armey in the 1990s and Tom DeLay in the early 2000s; not to mention the two Texan George Bushes. The Democrats were so worried about their decline in the South that they ran two southerners, Bill Clinton and Al Gore, in 1992 and 1996. Now the South is as impotent as it has been for a century.

This geographical shift has brought dramatic changes in style and substance. California’s Democratic House delegation is the most diverse on the Hill, with 10 white women, nine Hispanics, four black women and two Asian-Americans. It is also one of the most left-wing, according to the voting records. It is hard to imagine a bigger change from the southern-fried conservatives who once lorded it over Congress...

The Californication of the Democratic Party carries all sorts of risks. The most obvious is that California has the most dysfunctional politics in the country. The Golden State has one of the highest unemployment rates in America, at 9.3%, thanks to its high taxes, its unions, its anti-business climate and its gigantic housing bubble. Some 100,000 people have fled the state each year since the early 2000s...

The biggest risk is overreach. Many Californian liberals are as far to the left on cultural issues as the southern Republicans were to the right. Many of them also draw their support from two groups that have limited appeal to the rest of the country, particularly to the “bitter” voters that Mr Obama had such trouble wooing in November; the fabulously rich and public-sector activists.

All this suggests that one of Mr Obama’s most delicate tasks, if he wants to prevent his party from being captured by the “left coast” in the same way that the Republicans were captured by the South, will be to contain the Californian barons...

And Mr Obama did remarkably well in the South, capturing Virginia and North Carolina and coming within five points of taking Georgia. But putting just one person with a southern drawl in his cabinet might have helped.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I hope they keep it up. Those Californian politicians are clueless!