Commentary: California sets itself apart in this election

Early Spanish explorers believed that the exotic land they were to name "Las Californias" was an immense island.

The name itself came from a medieval Spanish novel, "The Adventures of Esplandián" by Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo. He depicted an island called California "very close to the side of the terrestrial paradise" and populated by a race of amazonian women ruled by Queen Califia.

The explorers' geographic error was metaphysically true. California has always set itself apart from other places – sometimes as a cultural, economic and political pathfinder and sometimes, particularly recently, as an example of bad behavior.

This election will almost certainly reinforce California's island-like separation. As a Republican tide sweeps across the nation, it will dissipate in the Sonoran Desert before lapping feebly against the eastern slope of the Sierra.

The state's Legislature and its congressional delegation will remain firmly Democratic, thanks to a 2001 gerrymander of districts that froze the partisan status quo. Democrats, in the person of 72-year-old former Gov. Jerry Brown, also are virtually certain to recapture the governorship. Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer is favored, albeit very narrowly, to win a fourth term despite her low public popularity.

But as it again sets itself apart, one must wonder, will the state resume its late 20th-century role of cultural and economic avant-garde – as Brown promises – or will it continue down the path of economic decline, cultural tribalism and governmental impotence and thus become even more of a global laughingstock?

Once the votes are counted, the sober reality of California's dysfunction bites. It's one thing to win the governorship; it's quite another to govern effectively. And there's no particular reason to believe that either Brown or Republican rival Meg Whitman would be any more successful than other recent governors.

To read the complete column, visit www.sacbee.com.