This story originally appeared at Truthdig. Robert Scheer is the author of The Great American Stickup: How Reagan Republicans and Clinton Democrats Enriched Wall Street While Mugging Main Street (Nation Books).
What’s the matter with California? It is a question once asked about Kansas when that state came to be viewed as a harbinger of a more conservative America. But now the trend is quite opposite, the right wing is in retreat and the Golden State is the progressive bellwether.
How is it that the state that incubated the presidencies of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan is now so deep blue Democrat that Mitt Romney hardly bothered to campaign there? Why did voters, including huge majorities in the state’s two wealthiest counties, approve a tax on high-income earners to increase funding for public education?
The answer is that the shifting demographics of California, forerunners of an inevitable national trend, are producing an American electoral majority that is more culturally sophisticated, socially tolerant and supportive of a robust public sector than can be accommodated by the simplistic naysayers who now dominate the Republican Party.
The big news from the last election is that California, home to 12 percent of Americans and the world’s eighth-largest economy, is a model of rational political thought. Not only did President Obama garner almost 60 percent of the vote there, but the Democrats who already controlled all branches of the state’s government gained a two-thirds supermajority in both houses of the state Legislature, the first time one party has done so since 1933, when the Republicans were in power. The Democrats have not managed such a feat since 1883.
Instead of voters rewarding the state’s Republican Party for its obstructionist tactics on any measure requiring a two-thirds vote, they provided California’s Democratic leadership with the votes needed to trump limits on tax collection imposed by the infamous Proposition 13, which for thirty-four years had shortchanged the public sector of needed funding.
The resulting California vote was consistent with a national tendency that The Wall Street Journal summarized in a headline: “Wall Street Took a Beating at the Polls.” The article cited the victories of populists in Senate races including Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts and Sherrod Brown in Ohio; voter approved increases in taxes in a number of states; and the rejection by historically anti-tax New Hampshire of an amendment to the state constitution that would have banned an income tax. But the example of the Golden State was even more compelling:
In California, home to 88 of the 400 wealthiest Americans, according to Forbes, voters raised corporate taxes on businesses based out of state and raised income taxes on the wealthiest residents. What’s more, the measure, which passed 53.9% to 46.1% statewide, received strong support in some of the counties where those tax increases will sting. In San Mateo, the home of Silicon Valley, the measure passed 63.2% to 36.8%. In Marin, where annual income ranks in the top 20 of all U.S. counties, the margin was even higher, 68.2% to 31.8%.