Road to LA Rugby Sevens: A Brief Tutorial Of The Social And Political Overview Of California


By Washington Osiro

So as a compendium to the wonderful and informative piece for those scheduled to throng the “City of Angels” (as Los Angeles (LA) is called) for the US leg of the IRBS Seven’s, my good friend and philosophical foil Mukurima Muriuki aka “MXM” challenged me to pen a piece “educating folks on the history of California (CA) and its political structure….,” i.e., number of political offices, etc. so here goes:

So as a compendium to the wonderful and informative piece for those scheduled to throng the “City of Angels” (as Los Angeles (LA) is called) for the US leg of the IRBS Seven’s, my good friend and philosophical foil Mukurima Muriuki aka “MXM” challenged me to pen a piece “educating folks on the history of California (CA) and its political structure….,” i.e., number of political offices, etc. so here goes:

FULL DISCLOSURE: I am neither an expert on the Golden State’s history nor its politics, but I have lived here longer than anywhere else – including Kenya. I also went to college at the University of California’s (UC) San Diego (SD) campus – where I studied Political Science.

California’s official nickname “Golden State” was adopted in 1968 as a tribute to the state’s official flower – the Golden Poppy – that sprout each spring across the state. Gold is also Cali’s state mineral AND state color. As much as I am leery of American history, the state’s historians agree that it did not become part of America until 1847 as part of the treaty that ended the Mexican-American War.

In terms of its landmass, the Golden State’s 155,973 square miles makes it the third-largest state in the US behind Alaska (570,641) and Texas (261,914). However, and this is much to the chagrin of Texas, Texans, other red states, and their respective citizens, in terms of gross domestic produce – GDP, Cali has the largest economy in the country. In fact, if California were a stand-alone country, its economy would be the fifth- or sixth-largest economy in the world ahead of the United Kingdom, France, or India and behind Germany, Japan, China, and America. 

California is also the most populous state in the Union with just under 40M (39,512,223) inhabitants – based on recent Census Bureau figures. This accounts for approximately 12% of America’s 330,150,668 inhabitants. The state’s 40M citizens generate an annual trove of goods, products, and services (GDP) totaling $2.5Trillion ($2,458,535M) or 13.3% of America’s 2015 $17.3T gross domestic produce total. There are some fun and revealing information to be gleaned from comparing California’s economy with those of the other states such as Texas ($1.6T), Georgia ($0.5T), Tennessee ($0.3T), Missouri ($0.29T), etc., – all red states whose GDP trails the Golden State’s. And to be clear, the stated GDP figures are dynamic, but the salient point is that California is a global power on its own.

(For comparison, Kenya covers an area of 224,081 square miles. It has 47.5M people and a GDP that’s just south of $0.1T or 1/25 that of California.) 

After 1994 when then-California Governor Pete Wilson supported the patently anti-immigrant initiative Proposition 187, California’s socio-political leanings have trended Democratic. This trend is emblematic of the saying, “As goes California, so does the rest of the country.” Of the last ten state governors, five of them were Republican, with the last one being actor/body-builder Arnold Schwarzenegger who was in office between 2003 and 2011. The current governor is Democrat Gavin Newsom, who was Lieutenant-Governor between 2011 and 2019. Newsom took over the governor’s mansion from another Democrat Jerry Brown. Before joining the state legislature, he was the Mayor of San Francisco before that. Each gubernatorial term lasts four years, and the governor is term-limited to two consecutive terms.

Like Texas, California’s demographics reflect the “browning of America” – a phenomenon described by William Frey (“Diversity Explosion: How New Racial Demographics are remaking America”) as the transformation of America racial and ethnic composition by its growing population of “new minorities,” i.e., Hispanics, Asians, and multiracial Americans—along with blacks, Native Americans, Pacific Islanders, and other groups.” Simplified, California is fast-becoming a “Minority Majority” state, i.e., a state where its numerical “minorities” – Hispanics, African-Americans, Asians, Native Americans, etc. will soon surpass the hitherto white numerical “majority.”

Contrary to some narrative I saw some Kenyans peddling on social media, California (along with the other fifty (50) states in the Union) has one (1) governor governing its entire population of 40M. Similarly and according to Article I, §3, Clause 1 of the US Constitution, “the Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State” to wit: Two (2) Senators – Diane Feinstein and Kamala Harris, both women and both Democrats, represent  California’s 40M inhabitants in the US Senate – just as two (2) Senators – Mike Enzi and John Barrasso, both Republicans, represent Wyoming’s 578,759 inhabitants in the Upper House of the US Congress.

However, according to Article II, §2, Clause 3 of the US Constitution, and in keeping with the representative republic form of state and federal government, the number of representatives, i.e., Congressmen/Women, is proportional to the number of people in each state. Thus given its size AND population, California has more representatives in the Lower House than ALL fifty (50) states in the Union. The Golden State has fifty-three (53) Congressional Districts hence fifty-three representatives in the House of Representatives. Wyoming, the least populous state in the US, has one (1) Congresswoman Elizabeth Lynne Cheney – Republican (and daughter of former VP Dick Cheney). Incidentally, the number of federal Congressional Districts plus the number of federal Senators each state has equals the number of Electoral College votes the state has; thus California has fifty-five (53 + 2) or ten percent of the Electoral College’s five hundred and thirty-eight (538) votes while Wyoming has three (1 + 2).

Like its national/federal counterpart, the California State legislature has both a lower house (California State Assembly) and upper house (State Senate). The latter has forty (40), State Senators, while the former has eighty (80) States Representatives. The Democrats control the State Legislature where they have a supermajority in both the Assembly and Senate. Specific to the upcoming Democratic Primaries for the 2020 General Elections, California has 494 delegates, of which 415 will be awarded based on the results of the Tuesday, March 3 voting.

( A “supermajority” in a legislative body is one, i.e., a caucus that does not need votes/support from across the aisle to move legislation forward. California state Democrats do not need their Republican counterparts to advance legislation in the State Assembly.)

The state capital is Sacramento, a much smaller and more obscure city compared to others within the state, including the more famous ones such as Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose, San Francisco, Long Beach, and maybe Oakland. In terms of population, “Cowtown-USA,” “SacTown,” or “TreeCity-USA” as Sacramento is often called, is the seventh most populous city in the state – barely ahead of Snoop Dogg’s LBC (Long Beach). It also has the state’s sixth-largest economy. With a GDP of $119B, Sacramento’s economy is 1/12 that of LA/LB ($931B) and about one-fifth that of Silicon Valley – San Jose-to-San Francisco – ($670B). –

The irony of this latter statistic (along with the one about the state’s unparalleled agro-industry) is that both are powered by – you guessed it, immigrants. From the developers and coders who make Silicon Valley companies such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and hundreds of lesser-known names the envy of the world to the farmers and seasonal workers who make California’s Central Valley the “nation’s breadbasket,” one common thread linking both sectors of the Golden State’s unparalleled success is its diverse and immigrant-heavy population.

It is indeed a “golden state” – based on the preceding socio-economic synopsis. However, some dark clouds, all directly and indirectly tied to its economic success, are forming over California – with the most pressing one being the state’s homeless rate – the highest in the country. Data on the problem vary, but with 114K-134K homeless persons, California has approximately 20% of the nation’s >500K homeless individuals in the country. 

The state’s housing market, which has some of the most expensive homes in the nation if not the world, has left many people unable to afford a roof over their heads – either via ownership or through rentals, but this is a topic for another day😉

In the meantime, Karibuni Cali – “The State Where You Never Find a Dancefloor Empty” – apologies to Dr. Dre and Tupac (RIEP).

the state where ya never find a dance floor empty