From the top of the ballot to the bottom, and across the state, California voters have spoken and their message is clear: They solidly support moderate Democrats and a pragmatically progressive agenda for the state.
This may seem counterintuitive to those who view California as the bluest of blue states – a bastion of liberal politicians and ideas, firmly on the left edge of the political spectrum pushing the envelope of mainstream public policy. But a closer look, as evidenced in California’s recent primary election, reveals the true inclination of the Golden State.
The Republican presidential contest, of course, was a nonissue. But at the top of the Democratic ticket, California voters came down firmly on the side of pragmatism. Hillary Clinton prevailed over Sen. Bernie Sanders by nearly 13 percentage points, in a contentious campaign between a self-proclaimed democratic socialist and a longtime moderate Democrat.
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And moderation prevailed down-ticket as well. In Assembly and Senate contests, moderate Democrats finished either first or second, qualifying under the state’s “top-two” primary system to go on to the general election in November.
In many instances, moderate Democrats, such as Cheryl Brown defending her Assembly seat in the Inland Empire and Bill Dodd running for Senate in the economically diverse 3rd District covering Napa, Solano and Yolo counties, finished first by wide margins, when up against more liberal Democrats.
Freed from the restrictions of the closed primary, more and more Californians are voting the person, not the party. And more often than not, they’re voting for political moderates.
Moderate Democrats are winning because they are in sync with the state’s maturing electorate; the average voter age in the June primary election was 60. These voters are skeptical of grandiose promises and simply want government to be efficient with their tax dollars and focus on solving real problems that California faces.
Polls have long borne out the reality that most voters are in the middle of the political spectrum. In a recent survey by the Public Policy Institute of California, nearly half (42 percent) of Californians described themselves as politically moderate; only 28 percent described themselves as liberal, and just 30 percent as conservative. Meanwhile, three-fourths of voters (74 percent) say elected officials should find common ground, not stick to rigid ideology when approaching solutions to the issues facing California.
Reflecting the districts they represent, these are socially progressive economic Democrats who believe all Californians should have a path to reach the middle class. They proactively support quality jobs that only a robust private sector can create. They want to strike a balance between job creation and environmental protection – both are needed. And they’re concerned about the increasingly high cost of living in California – especially the high cost of housing and energy.
California’s move toward moderate governance shouldn’t come as a surprise. We’re led by a governor, Jerry Brown, whose moderate, pragmatic approach has made him arguably the most effective governor in the nation, balancing fiscal discipline with Democratic values while presiding over the world’s sixth-largest economy.
There’s no question that Democrats are solidly in power in California. As Washington sinks deeper into gridlock, California will prove – as the only large state in the nation with a Democrat governor and Democratic control of both houses of the Legislature – that a pragmatically progressive agenda can create jobs, improve the environment and enhance the lives of all Californians.
The trend toward moderate governance is all about creating pragmatic solutions, finding common ground, being open to compromise and eschewing rigid adherence to narrow ideology. The voters get that, and when they speak, elected officials should listen.
Jim Cooper, D-Elk Grove, represents California’s 9th Assembly District. Contact him at Assemblymember.Cooper@assembly.ca.gov.