Is California Back? IGS Conference Produces Competing Answers

California conference panel 2
April 29, 2013

California may be on the road to recovery, but the Golden State still has a long way to go to regain its past luster, according to many of the participants at IGS’ conference April 26, “California: Are We Back?” See photos of the event on the conference page. 

The conference, cohosted with the UC Center Sacramento and held at the Center’s conference facility near the state Capitol, included panels on the state’s fiscal health, the recent efforts at political reform, and the changing demography of the state’s electorate. The lunchtime keynote session featured current Democratic Party Chair John Burton and former Republican Party Chair Duf Sundheim. The event was generously sponsored by PG&E.

Attended by 75 to 100 people, the conference was conceived in response to recent political events. After years of constant budget deficits and increasing voter pessimism, California voters approved a tax increase last November that put the state on an improved fiscal footing, and recently polls have shown an increasing number of Californians who say the state is on the right track. So has California turned the corner?

Opening the conference was a fiscal panel moderated by Amy Chance, political editor of the Sacramento Bee. Panelists included Deputy Director of Finance H.D. Palmer, Legislative Analyst Mac Taylor, and two former Directors of Finance – Tom Campbell and Tim Gage.

Although the panelists generally agreed that the short-term prospects for the state budget have improved, they also pointed to long-term financial obligations that pose potential problems. Although mostly in agreement, Campbell and Taylor strongly disagreed about a proposal to require that ballot initiatives specify a funding source for any new spending. Campbell favored the idea, while Taylor said it would simply tie up more of the state budget.

The second panel, moderated by Sacramento State Communications Professor Molly Dugan, focused on the impact of recent political reforms, such as the adoption of a nonpartisan primary system and the creation of an independent redistricting commission.

Trudy Schafer, senior director for program at the League of Women Voters of California, began the discussion by talking about the League’s involvement in political reform issues, noting that the organization only takes positions on measures it has studied, and on which the membership has agreed on a position.

Thad Kousser, who teaches political science at UC-San Diego, presented data showing that the recent reforms have made relatively little difference in the composition of the Legislature, although he noted that could change over time.

Mike Villines, a governance fellow at the UC Center Sacramento, described the view of a former legislator, while author Mark Paul placed the recent changes in the long-term context of American politics.

The final panel of the afternoon, moderated by Judy Lin of the Associated Press, focused on California’s changing demographics, and featured scholars Jane Junn of USC and Karthick Ramakrishnan of UC-Riverside, and political consultant Mike Madrid of Grassroots Lab.

Junn compared voting patterns in California versus those in the nation as a whole, focusing on issues of gender and ethnic diversity. Madrid compared the representation of ethnic groups in the California population as a whole to that among voters and various officeholders.

The lunch session featured a lively discussion between Burton and Sundheim, moderated by journalist John Myers, that covered everything from the state’s partisan alignment to the current policy issues facing California.

Panel 3

Panel 3: l-r: Jane Junn, Karthick Ramakrishnan, Mike Madrid and Judy Lin.

More event photos on the conference page.

(Photo: True Love Photo)