Yet in both parties, there’s near unanimous agreement that election marked the turning point for the California GOP. In 1994, Republican Gov. Pete Wilson won reelection in part by successfully promoting the passage of Proposition 187, which denied public benefits to undocumented immigrants (including public schooling for their children.) Though the courts eventually overturned much of Proposition 187, the effort lastingly alienated Hispanics, and even many Asian-Americans, from the GOP.
“That was the pivotal moment,” says Bruce E. Cain, a Stanford University political scientist. “It had short term benefits and long term costs, and the party has never really recovered from that.”
Deepening the hole for Republicans during the 1990s was the post Cold War decline of the state’s previously robust defense industry, which led to an exodus of right-leaning middle-class white voters.
With Bill Clinton and Al Gore easily carrying California in the 1996 and 2000 presidential races, Democrats reopened a comfortable advantage in the state’s Congressional delegation. But the Democratic-controlled redistricting after 2000, ironically, may have slowed the state’s transformation: though it locked in a substantial Democratic edge about three-to-two in the House delegation, it also drew safe seats for Republican incumbents.