California shows how raising the influence of moderates increases functional government

November 16th, 2013 by Ravi Iyer

Reposted from this post on the Civil Politics Blog

While there is certainly reason to be cautious in proclaiming California's only recently functional legislature as a success, recent legislative success, with Republicans backing liberal ideas and Democrats backing conservative ideas, suggests that some recent structural reforms have created a more civil and functional legislative environment.  Among the reforms recently enacted are:

Redistricting by a non-partisan commission, leading to more balanced/competitive districts
Non-partisan primaries, where the top 2 finishers, regardless of party, run against each other.

Both of these reforms make politicians more accountable to the broader electorate, instead of to the more extreme members of each party which tend to dominate partisan primaries.  

At CivilPolitics, we feel that these reforms are particularly likely to be the cause of a more civil legislative environment, given that their effect would have been predicted by research on "the dark side of moral conviction", which illustrates how our noble intentions can often lead us to be blind to the negative side-effects of realizing these intentions.  Introducing accountability to those who are more balanced in terms of their worldviews will naturally mitigate the danger of excess moral conviction leading to extreme political positions, of the sort that have led Washington D.C. to dysfunction.

From the New York Times:

“It’s given more courage to my Republican colleagues,” he said. “They were afraid of getting primaries. Now, it’s not just their base they have to appeal to.”

Adam Mendelsohn, a former senior adviser to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican who championed the ballot changes, said they were altering the nature of the Legislature but also his own party.

“It gives Republicans the chance to break from their caucus on certain issues,” he said. “It is very different than it was four or five years ago.”

Democrats may also be changing. The state Chamber of Commerce reported last month that 39 of the 40 bills it had described as “job-killing” — regulatory legislation that typically was supported by Democrats — had been defeated this year.

“In the freshman class, a lot of the folks had moderate voting records,” said Anthony Rendon, a Democrat who was elected to the State Assembly last year, evidence of the need for many legislators to appeal beyond the Democratic base.

– Ravi Iyer


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