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February 20, 2014
Bill Whalen: Status quo for next elections?

California_Governor_Jerry_Brown.jpg(Feb. 20 - By Bill Whalen, Special to The Bee)

Say what you will about the upcoming elections in California and nationwide, but one term doesn't spring to mind: paradigm-shifting.

At least not so in California, which is lining up as a "usual suspects" kind of vote for 2014 - statewide incumbents easily rubber-stamped; special interests flexing their muscle to mixed results on the initiative front.

Looking two years down the road, America could be in for more of the same.

First, America will say goodbye to President Barack Obama and a mixed record of targeting the next big wave. Obama was eight years late to the same-sex-marriage party - announcing he was for it in 2012, eight years after then-San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom had ordered his city's clerk to start issuing licenses.

Where could Obama innovate and be seen as decades ahead of the country's eventual path? He could sign an executive order halting the deportation of illegal immigrants, as religious and civil right leaders are demanding. The same president who shook hands with Raul Castro could begin the normalization of U.S.-Cuban relations. Closer to home, while California weighs marijuana legalization, there's no indication if the president will reclassify the drug from the same category as heroin and LSD.

Perhaps a President Hillary Clinton would do all of that.

But don't bet on it.

Clinton, ever cautious and calculating - and hardly a new kid on the block - won't be running as a visionary or a voice for a new generation. "Ready for Hillary" doesn't come with a soundtrack by Helen "I Am Woman" Reddy. That makes Hillarymania the same as Obamamania - minus all the pulse-quickening stuff about hope and change.

With status quo being the political state of play for the time being, here are three items to consider as we look at California's future.

Estado de Oro - Next month, California's Hispanic population will supplant non-Latino whites as the Golden State's largest plurality (both hovering at about 39 percent). By 2030, there will be twice as many Latinos under the age of 25 as there will be whites, giving that former voting bloc even more clout than it currently possesses. Surveys show young Latinos to be inordinately optimistic about the future.

The question moving ahead: When will a Latino politician tap into that spirit and ride it to higher office? In theory, this should have been the province of Antonio Villaraigosa, but after a disappointing turn as mayor of Los Angeles, his political future is murky. Perhaps Villaraigosa's successor, Eric Garcetti, whose family came to California from Europe by way of Mexico, cracks the barrier - not so much a roadblock as a traffic jam of aspiring younger Democrats. Then again, being mayor of Los Angeles historically is a graveyard for statewide ambitions.

Graying California - Speaking of 2030, by then one in three Californians will be over the age of 50 - the Golden State a grayer state whose over-65 population will have increased to 17 percent from 11 percent back in 1998. Politically, that translates to nearly 9 million Californians who turn out to vote concerned about having control over their remaining years.

In 2008, then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed Assembly Bill 2747, directing care providers to inform terminally ill patients of end-of-life options. Liberals applauded the idea; conservatives called it a back door to physician-assisted death - the same political fault line as in 1992, when Californians said no to physician-assisted death in the form of Proposition 161. It's been nearly four decades since California became the first American state to pass legislation permitting so-called passive euthanasia - i.e., "pulling the plug."

The question moving ahead: With a growing senior population, is California approaching a tipping point for voluntary euthanasia for the terminally ill to become politically acceptable? A bonus question: Would any California politician aspiring for higher office dare go near the Belgian Parliament's recent vote to allow euthanasia for terminally ill children without any age limit?

New life for right to life? - Try this for a what-if: Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer don't step down before Obama leaves office - she turns 81 next month; he'll be 76 in August. The progressive nightmare: a Republican president gets to fill one if not both seats and the resulting conservative-majority panel strikes down Roe v. Wade.

The ruling doesn't directly impact California, where the procedure is legally embedded. But there is a political side effect: new life for the pro-life movement.

Considering that California last year was the only state in the U.S. to broaden abortion access - Gov. Jerry Brown signing AB 154, allowing nurse practitioners, midwives and physician assistants to perform so-called "aspiration abortions" during the first trimester - it would be an upstream swim for social conservatives. Still, they might insist on taking the fight to the ballot to undo 2013's expansion, just as a parental notification measure is gathering signatures for this November.

The question moving ahead: how does California's GOP, looking to rebuild in a state not carried by a pro-life Republican since 1988, do so if the political conversation shifts from economics, education and ethics to abortion?

Food for thought, despite our fixed menu of politics.

Bill Whalen is a Hoover Institution research fellow and a former speechwriter for Gov. Pete Wilson. Reach Whalen at