California Democratic Party - History

History

The history of the Democratic Party of California is complex and long. The State has traded hands every few cycles since its admission into the union in 1850. At that time, the state was firmly in the hands of the Democratic Party. However, within five years, issues such as slavery splintered the party and the Know-Nothing Party took control.

Until the early 1880s after the republican party abolished slavery, the Republicans held the state through the power and influence of railroad men. The Democratic Party responded by taking an anti-corporate, anti freedom of attainment position. In 1894, Democrat James Budd was elected to the governorship, and the Democratic Party attempted to make good on their promises to reform the booming railroad industry. The party began working closely with the states railroad commission to create fair rates for passengers and to eliminate monopolies the railroad companies held over the state. The main effort focused on making railroads public avenues of transportation similar to streets and roads. This measure passed and was a great victory for the Democrats, but the honey moon would not last. Budd was to be the last Democratic governor for thirty years. The struggle between the anti-monopolists and the railroad companies was however, a key and defining issue for the Democratic Party for some time.

Despite their relative lack of power during this period, the Democrats in California were still active in pursuing reform. The party supported fairer railroad policies and crusaded for tariff reform. The party also supported the large scale railroad strikes that sprung up statewide. The corruption of the time in both the railroad companies and the government led to a change in political dynamic. The people of the state moved away from both of the main parties and the Progressive Movement began.

While the Progressives were successful in creating positive reform and chasing out corruption, the movement drained away many of the Democratic Party’s members. As their movement ended, the Republicans won the governorship, but the Democratic Party had a distinct voter advantage.

In 1932, Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected president and the Power balance between the Republicans and the Democrats in California equalized. However as Roosevelt’s New Deal policies began to raise the nation out of the depression, Democratic strength mounted. Culbert Olson was elected to the governorship, but his term was rocky and both parties organized against him. Shortly thereafter, Earl Warren and the Republicans seized power again.

The California Democratic Party needed a new strategy to regain power in the state. A strategy reorganization and popular mobilization emerged and resulted in the creation of the California Democratic Council. The CDC as it became known was a way for members of the party from all levels of government to come together and as such the party became more unified. A new network of politically minded civilians and elected officials emerged and the party was stronger for it. Despite the fact that the council struggled in the cold war era, due to Republican strength and issues such as the Vietnam War, it still exists today.

In 1992, California was hurting more than most states, from a national recession.

The California Democratic Party began re-organizing in 1991 and in 1992, won the greatest victories in the history of California—not only with President Clinton winning California's 54 electoral votes—but also with the election of two women Democratic U.S. Senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer.

Even though redistricting (reapportionment) was executed by a Republican State Supreme Court, California Democrats in November 1992 had increased their margin at all levels—Congressional, State Assembly and in the State Senate.

In 1994 California Democrats suffered a setback by losing the governor's race for the fourth time in a row, and the Democrats became a minority in the State Assembly. However despite $29 million spent by Republican U.S. Senate candidate Michael Huffington, Democratic incumbent U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein won re-election.

The 1996 elections proved to be a dramatic turnaround from the results of 1994, as President Bill Clinton won California's 54 electoral votes for a second consecutive time. Three Republican Congressman were also defeated, including Bob Dornan in the conservative stronghold of Orange County. In addition, California Democrats also regained the majority in the State Assembly while adding to their majority in the State Senate.

1998 was a banner year for California Democrats. An overwhelming majority of Californians elected Gray Davis, the first Democratic Governor in 16 years and re-elected U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer. Six of eight candidates for statewide constitutional offices won including Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante, Attorney General Bill Lockyer, Treasurer Phil Angelides, Controller Kathleen Connell and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin. In addition, California Democrats increased their majority in the State Assembly from 43 to 48 and also in the State Senate from 23 to 25.

Holding off a national Republican trend in 2002, California Democrats won all eight statewide offices for the first time since 1882. Governor Gray Davis, Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante, Attorney General Bill Lockyer and State Treasurer Phil Angelides were all re-elected while Steve Westly was elected State Controller, Kevin Shelley was elected Secretary of State, John Garamendi was elected Insurance Commissioner and Jack O'Connell was elected State Superintendent of Public Instruction. This feat was repeated again in 2010, when, despite massive Republican gains nationwide, the California Democratic Party swept all the statewide offices being contested, maintained its 34-19 edge in the 53-member U.S. House delegation and won one additional seat (thus increasing their majority) in the State Assembly while maintaining their current majority in the State Senate.

In the 2012 election, California Democrats experienced tremendous success once again: not only did President Barack Obama win California's 55 electoral votes again with over 60% of the vote and Senator Dianne Feinstein reelected with over 62% of the vote, but California Democrats - despite running in federal and legislative districts that were redrawn by an independent redistricting commission for the first time per the passage of Propositions 11 and 20 and the implementation of a new blanket primary - also won a net gain of four House seats by defeating three GOP incumbents and winning an open GOP seat (the 38-member California Democratic House delegation is larger than the entire 36-member House delegation of Texas) and won a supermajority in both houses of the state legislature, a feat which the party last accomplished in 1882. Geographically, the 2012 elections also witnessed the California Democratic Party make inroads in traditionally Republican areas: San Diego, the second largest city in California and a longtime GOP stronghold, elected a Democratic mayor for the first time since 1988. California Democrats also notched victories in other traditionally Republican areas such as the Inland Empire, Ventura County, the Central Valley, and Orange County.

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