AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Democrats who hope to turn Texas from red to blue look to California for inspiration. There, Democrats now hold every single statewide office and big majorities in both houses of the state legislature. Don't forget, California was home to Ronald Reagan.
Here's NPR's Ina Jaffe on how California became so consistently blue.
INA JAFFE, BYLINE: This is the state that gave the nation Ronald Reagan and, before that, Richard Nixon. Yet, California voters weren't really raw-meat red even when Republicans were riding high, says Dan Schnur, a political analyst at the University of Southern California.
DAN SCHNUR: They tended to be more conservative on issues relating to the economy and jobs and taxes. And they tended to be more left-leaning, more liberal, on health care and education, environmental protection and other cultural and social issues, as well.
JAFFE: Which sounds a lot like current Democratic Governor Jerry Brown.
Arguably, the long decline of California's Republican Party really picked up speed in 1994, when Republican Governor Pete Wilson hitched his re-election bid to Proposition 187.
(SOUNDBITE OF A POLITICAL AD)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: They keep coming, two million illegal immigrants in California. The federal government won't...
JAFFE: Prop 187 and Wilson proposed denying public services to the undocumented. Both won handily. But Rafiel Sonnenschein, a political scientist at Cal State Los Angeles, says Prop 187 inspired California Latinos.
RAFIEL SONNENSCHEIN: In the decades of the 1990s, a million new Latino voters came to the rolls. People who weren't citizens tried to become citizens. Those who were citizens registered to vote.
JAFFE: And now, Latinos account for more than a fifth of the electorate and they vote overwhelmingly for Democrats. So do Asian-Americans, women and young people.
But veteran Democratic political consultant Bill Carrick says the Democrats' success in California isn't just about demographics, they're winning on the issues.
BILL CARRICK: The environment, climate change, same-sex marriage, abortion. Of course, the danger for Republicans is people start casting votes for one party and they do it a couple of elections, it becomes a permanent political identity.
JAFFE: But recently, there was one California Republican who bucked the trend and did pretty well with Latinos and younger voters.
ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER: We have an opportunity to move past partisanship, to move past bipartisanship, to move to post-partisanship.
JAFFE: Yeah, you recognize the voice. Former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger may have been the only one who knew what post-partisanship meant but his passion for it was an indication of how little he was interested in building the California Republican Party. That task is now left to Jim Brulte, former Republican leader in the legislature and now the party chair. Demographics, he says, do not have to be destiny.
JIM BRULTE: Too many Republican leaders spend all of their time talking to the choir and not going into neighborhoods with our message of smaller government, lower taxes, more individual freedom and liberty.
JAFFE: Note, Brulte says nothing about abortion or gay marriage or other divisive issues. And he doesn't intend to. But Democratic consultant Bill Carrick says Brulte's efforts are undermined by Republicans in Washington and other parts of the country...
CARRICK: Who are totally out of sync with California. So, Californians all have TV sets, all have radios, and they can see what the Republicans are saying nationally. And oftentimes they react very negatively to that and it influences how they view the Republican Party here in California.
JAFFE: But as tough as things are for Republicans in California right now, it'll be a long time before anything similar happens in Texas, says political analyst Rafiel Sonnenshein.
RAFIEL SONNENSHEIN: There's a huge lag between demographic change and political change. It could be 20 years or more.
JAFFE: And Sonnenshein says that could give Texas Republicans time to figure out how to avoid the calamity that's befallen Republicans in California.
Ina Jaffe, NPR News.
CORNISH: And tomorrow our series Texas 2020 continues with a look at the changing face of the Texas Democratic party.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.