California has a funny habit of anticipating national political trends. Celebrity chief executives with no previous political experience who ride name recognition and controversy to victory? Seen it once or twice before. A spate of deregulatory policy leading to exploitation and corruption, culminating in a crisis? California knows something about that. Immigration and shifting demographics that inspire a “whitelash,” and put anti-immigrant populists in power? Been there, done that.
But right now, after producing three Republican presidents, California is at the forefront of progressive policy. Few states have made the Affordable Care Act work as well as California, and none have done as much to tackle climate change. While East Coast states are reliably Democratic, few have had the sort of durable progressive power that Democrats have amassed on the West Coast. The progressive wing of the Democratic Party has made major gains in California, flooding the normally low-turnout party caucus elections, and California boasts progressive supermajorities in both chambers of the State Legislature. Compare that to New York, which has a group of Blue Dog Democrats (the Independent Democratic Caucus) who have entered into a power-sharing agreement with Republicans to give them control of the State Senate.
California does all this while electing very diverse representatives—helping out the US Congress in that regard. Of the 94 people of color in the US House, 21 come from California, including recent breakout star but longtime progressive stalwart Maxine Waters. So California accounts for 12 percent of representatives in the House, but 22 percent of people of color.
While California and other Western states represent a viable model of progressive policy, it is dramatically under-discussed in the media and underrepresented in our national political conversation. There has never been a Democratic presidential nominee from California—or any Western state for that matter. The last time any Western state was credibly represented in a Democratic primary was way back in 1992, when Jerry Brown ran against Bill Clinton.
Most progressives know the names Bill De Blasio and Rahm Emanuel, for better or worse—but what of Eric Garcetti, the mayor of Los Angeles? And most progressives have strong feelings about New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, but rarely discuss Jerry Brown, Kate Brown, or Jay Inslee. There is an oft-discussed “East Coast bias” in journalism and sports broadcasting, but frankly, the same holds true in American politics today.