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California Democratic Party Chair Rusty Hicks speaks during a news conference, Friday, Nov. 17, 2023, in Sacramento, Calif. (AP Photo/Adam Beam)
California Democratic Party Chair Rusty Hicks speaks during a news conference, Friday, Nov. 17, 2023, in Sacramento, Calif. (AP Photo/Adam Beam)

California voters administered a few lessons to this state’s dominant Democratic Party in 2020 and 2022, but they appear to be forgotten or were never completely heeded.

The essence of those lessons, as seen in election returns on initiative measures and congressional races: This state’s voters are not as inveterately leftist as believed by the folks now running the state Democratic Party and the Legislature.

Rebukes to those Democrats actually began in the March 2020 presidential primary election, “won” by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders with about 36 percent of the Democratic vote. This was the same number drawn by the ultra-liberal former state Senate president Kevin de Leon (now a disgraced Los Angeles city councilman) from Democratic voters in his 2018 primary attempt to unseat Democratic U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

These two results ought to tell Democratic leaders they might find their control of California public affairs threatened if they lean too far to the left. A combination of moderate Democrats – clearly, about 65 percent of those registered in the party – with traditional Republicans and other moderates among the no party preference voter cohort has the potential to install very different leaders from those operating today.

One consequence of the fact that far left Berniecrat voters regularly pack the local Democratic caucuses that pick state party convention delegates and, thus, statewide party leaders, has been the strong emergence of what is euphemistically called “identity politics.”

That’s a political school which essentially holds that every ethnic group is homogeneous and should be represented in state and national leadership in direct proportion to its percentage of the populace. Another way of saying it goes like this: “We want our government to look like the state (or nation).”

This allows little space for qualifications, achievement or even consideration of who might do the best job for California and America.

Identity politics now controls much of what the state’s Democratic Party does. It’s was very visible here in the public pressures exerted upon Gov. Gavin Newsom when he mulled possible replacements for Vice President Kamala Harris after she gave up her U.S. Senate seat following the 2020 election.

“The next senator should be an Asian/Pacific Islander,” said one leader of an Asian political group early in Newsom’s search. That’s because one of Harris’ multiple ethnicities is Indian-American, and the Asian-American interest group wanted her seat go to someone much like her.

This gave absolutely no consideration to who might do the best job pursuing California’s interests, who might have the strongest chance to win election on their own, who was best qualified or myriad other factors that go into choosing political leaders.

Black groups made similar demands, insisting the seat must go to a Black woman, just because that’s also a Harris identity.

What happened to merit?

This was one question voters asked four years ago, when by a 57-43 percent vote they nixed Proposition 16, which aimed to restore affirmative action in hiring and college admissions. By a margin of about 2 million votes, Californians rejected the idea of a system with quotas on those areas, one where group identity matters more than merit.

Because some ethnic groups stress education more than others, they’ve gotten ahead economically and academically in higher proportions than their actual numbers. The voters essentially ruled these groups should not be penalized for their hard work and achievements.

These are lessons for Democratic leaders to contemplate as they face a third election featuring Donald Trump.

California Republicans blew their chance to take serious advantage of these things in 2022. For governor, they ran no one credibly distanced from Trump and lost the race to Newsom by about the same margin as in 2018. Potentially credible candidates like businessman and 2018 GOP nominee John Cox and former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer both blew their wads in the failed 2021 recall of Newsom, neither even entering the 2022 race.

In short, Democrats could have had significant opposition in 2022 if the GOP figures involved had been patient. And Democrats actually might see some serious competition in 2026, if they continue ignoring the lessons of 2020 and 2022 by tilting too far to the left.

Email Thomas Elias at