Forty years ago, Mexico was a one-party dictatorship under the Partido Revolucionario Institucional, hobbled by slow growth, soaring inequality, endemic corruption and dead politics. California, in contrast, was considered a model American state, with a highly regarded Legislature, relatively clean politics, a competitive political process and a soaring economy.
Today these roles are somewhat reversed, and not in a good way for the Golden State. To be sure, corruption remains endemic in Mexico, where the PRI ruled for some seven decades. But now, there is a vibrant, highly competitive political culture, with three strong parties and at least some movement toward economic reform. Thirty percent of Mexicans, according to Gallup, trust their federal government, a level not all that different than in the United States.
But if Mexico’s governance can be seen as at least gradually improving, it’s more difficult to reach that conclusion about the Golden State. California is now a one-party state, with increased corruption and little to no willingness to reform its creaky, scarily unbalanced economy. Californians, by a large margin, think things are getting worse, rather than getting better.
We can call this trend PRI-ization, and nowhere is it more evident than in our state’s increasingly torpid politics. As there is no real competition for power or for ideas, voter turnout, at both the local and state levels, has plummeted to the lowest levels on record. June’s primaries attracted barely 25 percent of the electorate, while the Los Angeles County turnout was just over 17 percent.
When I voted this month in my San Fernando Valley precinct, I brought my 9-year-old daughter, but she didn’t get to see democracy in action. She saw an empty church basement with a bunch of pleasant election workers sitting around with not much to do.
This lack of voter enthusiasm could be explained, in part, by a lack of competition between the parties statewide. But it goes deeper than that; even the nominally nonpartisan recent Los Angeles mayor’s race, while highly competitive, also broke modern records for low turnout.