- Ballot Measures
- Public Opinion
The Pale, Male Face of Reform
Political reform has a storied -- and also troubling -- history in American politics. During the first half of the 20th century, "reform" organizations formed to take on party machines that dominated many large American cities, putting in place new political institutions like nonpartisan, at-large, and off-year elections.
In recent decades, however, scholars have noted that traditional urban reformers were motivated by more than simply a commitment to the broad interests of the community. Reformers drew their support disproportionately from white, middle-class voters who were opposed to the redistributive policies favored by machine politicians, whose constituency consisted heavily of recent immigrants and the urban poor. In cities where reformers succeeded, working-class and minority voters often found themselves disenfranchised at the polls and excluded from access to the resources of government.
The successes and failures of urban reform provide us with important lessons about ongoing proposals to make California government work better. For example, it looks increasingly likely that the state's new Citizens Redistricting Commission will be dominated by white men significantly wealthier than the average California voter. Latinos, the fastest growing ethnic group in the state, remain vastly underrepresented in the pool of potential redistricting commissioners.
The last time recent immigrants and people of meager means were excluded from reform efforts, resulting changes to the structure of government muted their voice for an entire generation. Hopefully, history is not repeating itself in California.