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California budget deal collapse: Did state GOP blow a huge opportunity?

Gov. Jerry Brown needed four GOP votes to advance his California budget plan. The fact that talks failed without Republicans winning any concessions may come back to bite them.

By Daniel B. WoodStaff Writer / March 31, 2011

California state Senate minority leader Bob Dutton (l.) talks with GOP lawmakers during the debate over Gov. Jerry Brown's California budget plan at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., March 17.

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Los Angeles

When California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) declared state budget talks dead Wednesday, several political analysts suggested that there might be another casualty: the state Republican Party.

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The reason? It missed a huge opportunity to forward key policies that have been shoved aside during the past 10 years with Democrats in control. Among them: rolling back government employee pensions, diminishing regulations on business, and limiting the growth of government – all issues on which Governor Brown signaled a willingness to compromise.

The price was just four Republican votes that Brown needed to place a tax-extension plan before voters in a June special election. Brown's need for those votes gave Republicans unusual leverage that they may have squandered, analysts say.

“For this deal to have fallen through over something as small as just offering a referendum to let voters decide strikes me as big mistake,” says Craig Wheeland a political scientist at the St. Augustine Center for the Liberal Arts at Villanova University in Pennsylvania. “For a party in a minority situation in both state chambers to not take the opportunity to get something big that they valued in the past is really surprising.”

Last fall, as Republicans swept statehouses across the nation, California’s party was moving the other direction. It lost the two statewide offices it held and a legislative seat it had held for two decades. The highest state office Republicans now hold in California is on the Board of Equalization.

Why California Republicans struggle

Part of the reason is demographics. California's relatively large shares of Latinos, Asians, Pacific Islanders, and African-Americans tend to skew Democratic. That contributes to the Democrats' advantage in voter registration: 44 percent of voters register as Democrats, compared with 31 percent as Republicans, and 25 percent as third-party or decline-to-state.

For Hispanic voters in particular, the state GOP's decade-plus hard line on immigration has been a turnoff. In the midterm elections, Hispanic voters favored Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer over her Republcian opponent by 38 percentage points, according to a Los Angeles Times/University of Southern California September poll. Hispanic voters favored Brown by 19 percentage points over Republican Meg Whitman.

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