Editor's Note | Spring 2022 Issue

Closing Note: Governing Through Change

California's problems are monumental, but history gives room for hope

By Jim Newton

NOW THEN, TO THE QUESTION: Is California governable? The research and analysis featured in this issue make it clear that California faces enormous challenges. It is a huge and changing place — one where immigration and internal growth are altering the demographic landscape, where some voters feel shoved aside, where a state budget surplus exists alongside crying need, where many communities live in fear and are wary of those charged with their protection.

This embraces a tough set of issues. They range from the most abstract to the most tangible, from the right to cast a meaningful ballot to the reasonable expectation of being protected by the police. These and other issues within this comprehension have generated academic interest and calls for reform. Can California’s tax system be changed to mitigate its wild swings from shortfall to surplus? UCLA professors Kirk J. Stark and Daniel J.B. Mitchell are among those asking that question and offering recommendations.

So deep are some of California’s dilemmas that reforms once intended to protect it from special interests — the referendum, initiative and recall — now are firmly under the control of those very interests. More than a century after launching direct democracy, California is struggling to regain it, and leaders are debating how to do so. Meanwhile, the state confronts these questions under the permanent stress of change. When California Progressives brought their safeguards for democracy into force in the early 1900s, they won on the strength of men’s votes; women were excluded. It was the Progressives who changed this, and in 1911, California men approved Proposition 4, granting women the right to vote. That doubled the electorate, but it remained overwhelmingly White through much of the 20th Century.

Writers Lisa Fung and Jon Regardie show, however, that the change afoot in modern California — a foreshadowing what’s in store for the rest of America — is enlarging notions of how to live, work and participate here. This state’s largest ethnic group now is Latino/as, followed by Whites, Asians and Blacks. Desperate to hold onto a shrinking base, some of those being swamped by demographic trends have resorted to gerrymandering and voter suppression, battlegrounds examined by Fung and Regardie — whose pieces look at work by Professor Natalie Masuoka, Professor Matt Barreto and others. Voter registration to overpower such suppression Is exemplified by the activism of Jason Berlin, profiled in this issue by Molly Selvin.

It is the nature of social science that issues explored by Blueprint often are lived and researched at the same time. That’s no exception here, and there is no more basic aspect of life than safety. In pursuit of security and well-being, lawmakers and researchers are working to develop better ways of responding to persons in crisis; this effort is chronicled by writer Robert Greene, who takes stock of endeavors in Los Angeles and elsewhere to equip police and social service workers with the tools they need to resolve such crises peacefully.

Our articles and the research and experiences they present do not paint a picture of a placid or simple place. California is the most populous and diverse of American states, a nation-state ever poised at the leading edge of what is new. Managing its challenges overwhelms some leaders but causes others to rise to the occasion. It brings out the best — and the worst — in its inhabitants. It’s not always an easy ride. But is California governable? Yes.

Jim Newton

Jim Newton

Jim Newton is a veteran author, teacher and journalist who spent 25 years as a reporter, editor, bureau chief, editorial page editor and columnist at the Los Angeles Times. He is the author of four critically acclaimed books of biography and history, including "Man of Tomorrow: The Relentless Life of Jerry Brown." He teaches in Communication Studies and Public Policy at UCLA.

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