Dan Walters

Opinion: Californians are blue but also centrist

While Republicans may make some legislative and congressional gains this year and have an outside chance at a statewide office, Democrats will continue their dominance of what has become a solidly blue state.

Blue though they may be, however, California voters are not all that liberal on specific issues, especially in contrast to the Legislature.

Jerry Brown, who is overwhelmingly likely to win a fourth term as governor, knows that, which is why he projects a cautious, quasi-conservative image, a far cry from the Gov. Moonbeam of his earlier gubernatorial incarnation.

Virtually his entire campaign is wrapped up in Propositions 1 and 2, and a message of “saving” – water and money. And during campaign stops this week, Brown took pains to differentiate himself from his more overtly liberal co-partisans in the Legislature.

They may want to extend the temporary taxes that Brown persuaded voters to enact in 2012, but he’s leery, saying, “I said when I campaigned for Prop. 30 that it was a temporary tax, so that’s my belief, and I’m doing everything I can to live within our means.”

And while campaigning for one Democratic Assembly hopeful, Brown quipped, “Don’t worry about having too many Democrats, because if they get out of hand, I’ll keep them in check.”

The fundamental moderation of California voters emerges in a new pre-election poll by Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, which surveyed not only how they are voting, but their attitudes toward specific issues.

By far, the poll found, voters believe that strengthening the state’s economy, which is emerging slowly from the Great Recession, should be the top priority, followed by improving schools and reducing the state’s long-term debt.

Dead last, at just 6 percent, was “protecting the environment,” which Democratic legislators – and occasionally Brown – often tout as a major goal. And those priorities hold among voters of both parties, all age groups and all ethnic groups.

The poll found very lukewarm support, at best, for extending the temporary taxes or making them permanent, and equally tepid interest in changing Proposition 13, the 1978 property tax limit, to impose higher taxes on business property through a “split roll.”

How about restoring ethnicity-based affirmative action in college admissions, another big issue for many Democratic legislators (but not, apparently, for Brown)?

Support is scant and opposition is heavy, even among Latino voters, notwithstanding the drum-beating among Latino politicians for repealing Proposition 209, the 1996 ballot measure that barred affirmative action.

Brown, the Hoover poll confirms, has identified and occupied the state’s political sweet spot, somewhere in the middle of the ideological range, which is why he’s headed for a record fourth term as governor.

Call The Bee’s Dan Walters, (916) 321-1195. Back columns, sacbee.com/dan-walters. Follow him on Twitter @WaltersBee.

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