California’s changing colors

Can the Republicans adapt?

Why is California such a blue state dominated by Democrats? The answer is simple: changing demographics. In this state, communities of color—black, Asian and especially Latino—are driving the state’s population growth.

According to a report from the Center for American Progress, the Latino share of population in California has nearly doubled since 1990, from 20 percent to 38 percent, while the Asian population has grown from 9.2 percent to 13.1 percent. Whites ceased to be the majority more than a decade ago, in 2000.

People of color vote. In 2008, Latinos comprised 21.4 percent of voters, Asians 9.2 percent and African Americans 7.7 percent, and the numbers have gone up since.

In 1994, when Republican Gov. Pete Wilson pushed through Proposition 187 barring unauthorized immigrants from receiving all but emergency medical services, Latinos took it personally. The measure was quickly struck down in the courts, but the damage was done: Latinos have voted preponderantly Democratic ever since, and Democrats have won the state in every presidential election.

Smart Republicans understand their party, which now comprises only 30 percent of registered voters in the state, is becoming a bastion of older white people whose chief preoccupation is hunting out doctrinal heretics. Instead of embracing these new demographics and acknowledging that California is becoming more diverse, they have hunkered down with their regressive anti-immigrant sentiments.

They opposed the California DREAM Act, for example, that makes undocumented college students eligible for state and private financial aid that may cut the cost of attending college by up to two-thirds. And they continue to oppose comprehensive immigration reform designed to create a way for longtime unauthorized immigrants to become legal residents.

In doing so, they fail to recognize that communities of color add billions of dollars to the state’s economy as consumers, that business owners of color own more than one-fourth of businesses in the state, that immigrants are essential to the state’s economy as workers, and that they contribute billions of dollars in state and local taxes.

Many immigrants, including Latinos, share the traditional Republican appreciation for smaller government and lower taxes, but they also recognize the value of the social safety net. They could find a home in Republicanism, if only the party would meet them halfway.