When we last left off, California had just come out of the 1986 midterms. The elections was bit of a wash for both parties. Voters chose to keep the status quo with statewide electeds with no party gaining any new offices. Gray Davis (Jerry Brown's former chief of staff) was elected as state controller while Republicans made modest gains in both chambers of legislature(though Democrats still remained firmly in control). Democratic senator Alan Cranston fought of a tough challenge from moderate Republican congressman, Ed Zschau, by winning by a mere 1.5%. The main victory for conservatives came with the successful recall of Chief Justice Rose Bird (and yes that is the much younger Fred Karger in the linked video, who ran for president in 2012).
Before we continue on I want to take a step back and looks some Los Angeles Mayoral races particularly the Yorty vs Bradley races. We'll first start of with a look at the two candidates
Yorty began to reevaluate his positions after the loss and moved to the right. He briefly served WW2 and then returned back to the assembly. He then ran for Douglass's open house seat in 1950, easily winning the reliably blue seat. He ran for one more term in 1952 before setting his sights on the senate again. Nixon's election to veep had triggered a special election. The appointed Republican, Thomas Kuchel, was running to complete the rest of Nixon's term. Kuchel and Yorty ran in both party primaries but this time Yorty was able to win the Democratic primary. The liberal Kuchel ended up beating Yorty 54-47 in the general election. Suffering his second senatorial defeat, Yorty took a break from politics.
In 1960 he came out to endorse Nixon for president much to the chagrin of his party. So it was no surprise that when Yorty began running for mayor of Los Angeles the following year much of the party establishment used their funds and energy to oppose him. But Yorty ran on populist message, promising to expand freeways end sorting of wet and dry garbage (the incineration of which contributed to the air pollution in the city). He was able to make it to a runoff election against the Republican incumbent, Norris Poulson. Yorty took advantage of the fact that Poulson was hampered with attacks over expenses incurred for moving the Dodgers franchise to the city. Poulson had the terribly luck of getting a bad case of laryngitis which kept him unable to defend or debate for the campaign. Yorty narrowly defeated Poulson 51.45%-48.55% . Yorty kept his promises from his campaign but maintained a conservative record which opposed communism and was critical of the civil rights movement.
Yorty ran for a second term in 1965 and was challenged by James Roosevelt, the son of FDR. Roosevelt had an extensive campaign which spent 450K on campaign ads, buttons, billboards and commercials. Yorty spent less than half of what Roosevelt did but focused on his achievements of lowering city taxes and fixing waste collection. Roosevelt attacked Yorty for being member of a segregated club and his conservative stances. But in the end it wasn't enough as Yorty triumphed winning the election outright with 57% of the vote.
1969 LA Mayoral Race
Although Yorty had begun to grow tired of his position and seek higher office, (he unsuccessfully ran for Democratic nomination for president in 1964 and CA governor in 1966) he decided to run for a 3rd term. By this time Yorty had grown even more conservative was basically a Democrat in name only. He had come out to support Reagan's successful campaign as governor, supported the war in Vietnam and refused to endorse Hubert Humphrey in the 1968 presidential election. In addition Yorty had come off as largely tone deaf in response to the Watts riots and had seen his popularity plummet. City councilman Bradley seized on the opportunity to challenge Yorty. The campaign grew heated with Yorty attacking Bradley of being far left and having communist or black power sympathies. Yorty used every chance to highlight his conservative views and insert racial animosity into the election. Despite all this Bradley led the way capturing key newspaper endorsements and several national Democrats (Ted Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey) stepped in to help his campaign. In the first round Bradley led the incumbent Yorty by an impressive 41.8%-26.09% and most were ready to write the political obituary of Yorty. But Yorty continued to blast Bradley with negative attacks saying the city would would fall into racial and lawless turmoil if Bradley were elected. Although most of these attacks were blatantly false they seemed to be having an effect on Bradley's support. Bradley main failing in this campaign was that he never brought up his service in the police force to counter Yorty. In the end Yorty triumphed in a major upset by winning 53.26% to 46.75%.
1973 LA Mayoral Race
Yorty had grown even more tired of his position and decided to run again for the governorship in 1970 and the presidency in 1972. This time he spent nearly 40% of his time away from Los Angeles on his failed presidential bid and transferred much of his duties to his staff. Yorty only garnered 6% in the New Hampshire primary as his conservative views made him seem increasingly as a relic in the face of the national Democratic party that was moving leftward.
Bradley challenged Yorty again in a rematch. Once again Bradley led in the first round, this time by a narrower 35.39% to Yorty's 28.86%. Yorty used his same race baiting tactics of accusing Bradley of having support of Black Panthers and ultra-leftists. But this time the attacks failed garner the support Yorty had received in the past election. Bradley had built up a strong citywide racial, religious and ethnic coalition and easily bested Yorty in the runoff election 56.34%-43.66%, becoming only the 2nd African American mayor of a major US city at the time.
Random trivia: Yorty did actually win the support of one delegate during his 1972 presidential bid, Woody Jenkins. Yes that's the same Woody Jenkins who ran unsuccessfully as Republican House candidate against Don Cazayoux in 2008 special election.
Continuing back where we left of with my last installment:
In 1988 Republican George H. W. Bush won the presidency and narrowly carried California by a 51.13%-47.56% margin. It was the 6th consecutive election in which the Golden State had voted for a Republican presidential candidate (keep in mind the GOP ran CA natives for 4 of those elections). Democrats performed strongly in the northern counties along with LA county but it still wasn't enough to turn the state blue. But having Bush win the state by a smaller margin than his predecessor, led him to have negative coattails in the state. Democrats gained a state senate seat and 3 assembly seats. Still incumbent Republican senator, Pete Wilson was able to fend off a challenge from sitting Lt. Governor, Leo T. McCarthy.
Although Governor Deukmejian was eligible for a 3rd term, he decided to retire. Both parties had their eyes on the governorship. Senator Wilson had grown tired of the senate and decided to run for the governorship even though he was only 2 years into his second term. The two main Democrats interested in the position were San Francisco Mayor, Dianne Feinstein and attorney general, John Van de Kamp. One of the key differences between the two candidates was that Van De Kamp was against the death penalty while Feinstein supported it.. She even ran ad during the primary where her support of the death penalty was met with huge boos from liberal delegates at the state convention. The ad highlighted her independence and proved effective in winning the Democratic primary. During the general election Wilson and Feinstein campaigned as moderates. They both were pro-choice and supported more environmental laws. Feinstein ended up winning most of the coastal counties of CA but that wasn't enough to counter Wilson carrying the remaining inland counties, Thus Wilson was elected governor by a 49.25%-45.78% margin. Wilson then appointed Republican state senator John F. Seymour to his vacant senate seat.
As for the remaining races, Democrats padded their legislative majorities winning one state senate and one assembly seat. Republicans picked up the now open Attorney General's seat with congressman Dan Lungren. In the house races the burtonmander had begun to lose its luster as 3 seats changed parties. Population growth and demographic changes of the past 8 years and had made the CA gerrymander susceptible. Democrats defeated one incumbent with Cal Dooley while Republicans defeated two incumbents with Duke Cunningham and Frank Riggs. The end result was a net gain of one seat for GOP going against national Democratic trend for Bush's midterm.
*Minor correction: In my previous installment I had stated that the Democratic gerrymander, the Burtonmander, had given Democrats an impressive 28-17 Dem advantage for the house delegation for 8 years. In actuality Democrats did lose one seat during that time. In 1984 the conservative Bob Dornan returned back to congress defeating Jerry M. Patterson giving the Democrats a 27-18 advantage instead. After the 1990 midterms this advantage was reduced to 26-19.
*note this clip contains coverage from the 1990 and 1994 CA gubernatorial elections.
1992: Laying the groundwork for a Democratic California
The 1992 election was a major turning point in California Politics. California's booming population led the state to gain an additional 7 house seats for reapportionment. With a divided government (Republican Governor and Democratic Legislature) redistricting was thrown to the courts. At the same time California's economy was in the toilet. The end of the cold war eliminated much of defense contracting sectors in the state and sent the state into a huge recession.
I'll let Professor Louis Warren give you a better idea of the California Environment at the time.
Indeed, the state’s condition was dire. The nation remembers the recession of the early 1990s as a mild one, but in California it was the worst downturn since the Great Depression. Huge defense companies such as General Dynamics, Raytheon and others laid off hundreds of thousands of engineers and other white collar workers. Housing values fell far from their 1980s peak, and many new homeowners soon held mortgages greater than their property values. The poor endured steep service cuts and high unemployment. In 1992, in the aftermath of the verdict exonerating the LAPD officers who beat Rodney King, the city of Los Angeles exploded in the biggest civil insurrection since the Civil War.California Democrats began regroup, reorganize, and rebuild the party from 1991-1992. They had to defend a senate seat, compete in a special election senate race, and attempt to turn California blue at the presidential level.
Incumbent senator Alan Cranston had become embroiled in the Keating 5 scandal and decided to retire than run for a 5th term. Democrats nominated Marin county congresswoman, Barbara Boxer. Republicans selected Bruce Herschensohn, a conservative political commentator, who had previously lost the Republican primary for senate in 1986. Boxer originally led in the senate race by double digits but Bruce Herschensohn began attacking her on the house banking scandal. As it turned out Boxer had written several bad checks. To remedy the matter she wrote a $15 check to the Deficit Reduction Fund for each of her 87 overdrafts. By then the race narrowed as the momentum seemed to be on Herschensohn's side. A last minute attack blasting Herschensohn for visiting a strip club turned the tide toward Boxer as Herschensohn's campaign was forced to deal with the allegations (Herschensohn did admit to visting a strip club with his girlfriend) rather than campaign. Boxer prevailed over Herschensohn winning 47.9%-43%
There also was a special election to fill the remainder of Pete Wilson's senate term. Diane Feinstein was once again nominated as the Democratic contender to challenge Republican appointee, John F. Seymour. Feinstein had the advantage of name recognition from her previous campaign for governor while Seymour was still barely known to much of the state. Feinstein crushed Seymour 54.29%-37.96% by winning a combination of coastal counties and inland ancestral Democratic counties (some that McGovern and Carter had previously won)
Despite the districts being drawn by the Republican majority court, Democrats picked up 4 house seats to the Republican's 3, giving Democrats a 30-22 house delegation. Thus 1992 was largely a banner year for the California Democrats. The only bright spot for the GOP is that they gained a state senate seat but were still in the minority of the chamber.
The Republican Wave of 1994 and Prop 187
Governor Pete Wilson's approvals were abysmal. The economy in California had not recovered that well yet. In order to balance the buget, Wilson championed one of the largest tax increases in the state history with a coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans in the legislature(I know that's hard to believe today and if you ever check Wilson's Wikipedia you'll see they've scrubbed any mention of tax increases during his term). While this measure helped California regain its economic footing, it proved disastrous to Wilson's approvals within his own party. It was no surprise that conservatives were fuming angry with their governor's tax proposal. Polling put Wilson nearly 20 points behind his Democratic challenger, CA state treasurer and sister of Jerry Brown, Kathleen Brown. Wilson needed to do something to turn his political fortunes around. He opted to run a conservative campaign and bolster his support with conservatives the very opposite of his 1990 campaign. He saw his chance when Republican State Senator Dick Mountjoy (yes that's his real name) put Prop 187 on the ballot.
Proposition 187 basically would deny social services (public schooling, healthcare, etc.) to illegal immigrants. The proposition was leading the polls and Wilson saw it as the best chance to save his political career. Thus Wilson and California Republicans tied their campaigns to Prop 187.
Diane Feinstein was also on the ballot as she now had to run for a full 6 year term. Republicans recruited the wealthy and centrist congressman Michael Huffington to challenge her. Huffington spent an enormous 29 million dollars on his campaign to unseat Feinstein. In the closing days of the campaign it was revealed that Huffington had employed undocumented workers despite supporting prop 187. The race proved to be a nail bitter. Feinstein narrowly lead with 46.7% to Huffington's 44.8% but the race wasn't called until enough absentee ballots were counted to ensure her victory.
The election turned out to be a huge boon for Republicans. Wilson was easily reelected with 55% of the vote. Republicans netted 3 more statewide offices (Treasurer, Secretary of State, and Insurance Commisioner). Lungren easily held onto his post as Attorney General. Democrats managed to only hold onto the open Lt. Governor and Controller races with Gray Davis and Kathleen Connell. Republicans gained 2 seats in the state senate and won control of the assembly with a 1 vote majority for the first time since 1968. Republicans also picked up 3 house seats and then won a special election the year after with Tom Campbell. This lead to a tied house delegation with Democrats and Republicans each having 26 house seats. This was the first time Democrats didn't have a majority of the house delegation since 1958!
Trivia: Although Republicans won control of the assembly they didn't get control the speakership till a full year later. Longtime Speaker, Willie Brown, exploited the GOP's 1-seat majority by winning cross-over support from disaffected Republicans (Paul Horcher, Doris Allen, Brian Setencich). Republicans didn't get the chance to elect Curt Pringle as speaker till Brown had left the assembly to become mayor of San Francisco in 1996. Tennessee Democrats did something similar after the 2008 elections
Prop 187 passed overwhelmingly 58.93%-41.07% but was soon blocked by the courts and never implemented. Still the proposition had done its job electing Republicans for the time being.
The Rachel Maddow Show discussed Prop 187 (starting at 2:45-9:05)
Trivia: In 1994 long time Secretary of State, March Eu Fong resigned to take an ambassadorship with the Clinton Administration. This led to Tony Miller becoming acting secretary of state and the first openly gay statewide officer (albeit he had not been elected to the position). Miller did run for the position in his own right in 1994 but lost to Republican Bill Jones. Miller still holds the title of being the first openly gay candidate to run for statewide office.
1996: A Democratic Resurgence
Although Republicans had performed well in the previous cycle much of their base had been wiped out. Many of the Californians who had lost their defense jobs were Republicans who ended up leaving the state to find other work. In addition to that the aftermath of Prop 187 racially polarized the state.
Here's some more insight from professor Warren
Historically, Mexican immigrants were often wary of becoming U.S. citizens, and when they did they were only slightly more likely to vote Democrat than Republican. Many harbored dreams of returning to Mexico to retire.But 1994 changed all that. By tarring Latinos as “illegals,” Republicans drove far more legal Mexican immigrants to become not only citizens and voters, but Democrats.Republicans got their first taste of the changing electorate in the 1996 election. Increased Latino turnout helped propel Democrats to reverse the 1994 tide. Democrats padded their senate majority by 1 seat and had a net gain of 4 assembly seats, retaking the chamber. Democrats defeated 3 house Republicans (Bill Baker, Andrea Seastrand and Bob Dornan) returning the house delegation to a 29-23 Democratic advantage. Clinton easily carried the state 51.1%-38.21%-6.96%. Prior to this many pundits had thought of Clinton's 1992 win in California to be a fluke, but with second consecutive win the state was moving rapidly in the D column.
This concludes my 3rd installment of "A look at Politics of CA" I hope you found it be to be worth your while. Next We will look at the continued Democratic resurgence of California and the recall election.