July 18, 2019

California Needs a New, Centrist Party

Those of us who inhabit the space in American politics between the 40-yard lines have watched with dismay as the nation’s two major parties retreat into their respective ideological end zones. Many of us have often wondered about the potential for a centrist third party that could occupy the ground near midfield that has been abandoned by Democrats and Republicans.

The number of California’s registered Republican voters has fallen to less than one-quarter of the state’s electorate, leaving the marginalized GOP with fewer official members than the number of voters registered as No Party Preference. That means Republicans are now, technically, California’s third party. So the question we should be asking is: What should our state’s second political party look like?

Republicans have fallen to third-party status because of a doctrinaire message and agenda that make many women, minorities and young people feel unwelcome. Such a confrontational approach from the GOP has essentially defaulted control of the state to Democrats, who, without the checks and balances of a two-party system, have struggled to develop solutions for the state’s housing, transportation and education crises. 

Our new centrist party could draw from the strengths of both Democrats and Republicans, prioritizing job creation and economic growth while still respecting our newest and youngest neighbors. It should be known as the Independent Party, but it is instead designated with the less-descriptive No Party Preference label. While the term “independent” would send an important message to Californians looking for a true alternative, other potential titles for a new party could provide useful guidance: 

The Opportunity Party: With economic headwinds looming, California needs a pro-growth agenda that rejects the ideological extremes of both existing parties and creates opportunities for economic success and a better quality of life for residents. The chief obstacle to those goals is the lack of affordable housing for working Californians. A centrist solution could ease regulatory burdens that prevent necessary development while protecting our natural resources. We also need tax reform that would recognize the realities of a 21st-century economy and protect us from the budgetary devastation that accompanies a stock market downturn. We could benefit from California’s geographic advantage as the capital of the Pacific Rim, expanding international trade opportunities while protecting workers from unfair foreign competition. 

“Our new centrist party could draw from the strengths of both Democrats and Republicans.”

The Unity Party: From the time of the first Spanish explorers and missionaries, California has thrived when it has welcomed and supported newcomers, whose energy and optimism have fueled the state’s growth. A Unity Party would protect immigrants from demonization and vilification. It would also protect their communities from violent crime, protect their economic opportunities from an overreaching government, and protect their children from being trapped in inadequate schools. It would be a party that values the attributes that law-abiding new arrivals bring with them to our state, that encourages their integration into our communities, and that applauds their successes as our own.

The Humility Party: Members of this party would understand that the political center does not have a monopoly on smart policy ideas. They would recognize that committed progressives and equally ardent conservatives are just as invested in the state’s future. Believing a balanced approach would be the best path forward for California, they would see the foolishness in ignoring ideas from others who may have different ideological perspectives. They would know that those who disagree with them are neither stupid nor evil, but rather have a different idea on how the state can best confront its policy challenges. This party would facilitate that conversation and provide common ground on which a respectful and inclusive dialogue could flourish.

When we combine these essential strengths of unity, opportunity and humility into a new political entity for our state, it would become clear that it should be called “The California Party.” As we prepare to move forward, we welcome the involvement of all Californians who shares those core values.

Dan Schnur is a professor at USC’s Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism, and UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies. He is the founder of the USC-L.A. Times statewide political survey and the former director of the American Jewish Committee’s Los Angeles region.