In 1994, conservatives in California passed a ballot proposition forbidding illegal immigrants from using public services. The short-term politics worked for Republicans in an angry political year, but the long-term damage to the party has been massive. Arizona's even more draconian law, endorsed John McCain and signed by the state's Republican governor, has similar potential. [...]This is all true, but it only tells part of the story of how the GOP went from the state's dominant party. From the late 1930s until now, California has had only three Democratic governors, one of whom was Gray Davis, who wasn't exactly beloved. During that time, the GOP usually held one of the two Senate seats, and the state went Republican in the electoral college every time from 1952 to 1988 (except for the Lyndon Johnson landslide in 1964). Part of this was due to the Orange County-style voters who later left the state, but Hispanics and also Asian-American voters were vital cogs in the state Republican machine. California has large communities of Chinese and Vietnamese-Americans, who gravitated toward the GOP for its anticommunist politics. We also have a huge community of people of Japanese descent who trended GOP because of F.D.R.'s Japanese internment policy. A lot of the people I know here had relatives who were affected by that policy, and there's still quite a lot of anger about it. And while it's not a different race per se, California also has a pretty large population of Russian immigrants, who also used to be good Republicans. There are big communities of Russian immigrants in L.A. and in my old neck of the woods in Sacramento, thanks in large part to the city being the headquarters of Voice of America back in the day.
This is the backdrop to the Democrats' apparent decision to take up immigration reform. I don't like their plan of sidelining climate legislation to focus on reform, but the politics seem irresistible. The combined effect of the Arizona law plus Democrats pushing for immigration reform will probably be to cement Latino's political allegiance for a very long time. In the short term, the politics may not work for most Democrats -- Harry Reid excepted -- but in the long run it will be a bonanza.
We know what happened with Hispanics, but California Republicans have lost pretty much all of the other groups now. Part of it is just the old coalitions shredding in the aftermath of the Cold War, but so many of these communities are culturally conservative and fairly prosperous, and would seem like GOP magnets anyway. The real reason they lost these people is the unending racist yahoo nationalism from the usual suspects. With the Dems' prospects in California looking a little shaky this year because of the economy, which is far worse here than in the country generally, I guarantee you that prospective nominees like Meg Whitman and Tom Campbell want immigration reform to become a big debate like they want a hole in the head, to use an old cliche. The obvious angle is with Hispanic voters, but more generally it will bring the Minutemen and all the other nutcases out of the woodworks, and ultimately scare the shit out of everyone in the state who isn't right-wing, which works to the detriment of the mostly sensible center-right types like Campbell and Whitman. Of course, the also-rans like Steve Poizner and Carly Fiorina like this issue because they can use it to bash the frontrunners, who can't really fight back because then they'd be assured of losing the election, but the truth is that if the underdogs actually score some upsets and get their respective nominations, they'll be even more screwed than the current frontrunners.
Of course, I'm just anxiously waiting the Chuck DeVore surge, which would pretty much wipeout the GOP in the state. It's already happening, actually: