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California Politics

California Politics
A Primer

Fourth Edition

January 2016 | 192 pages | CQ Press
California Politics: A Primer concisely explains how California’s history, political culture, rules, and institutions work together to shape its political landscape. Author Renee Van Vechten begins with a brief political history of the state, then walks through direct democracy, the legislature, executive branch, and court system, covers local government, and concludes with discussion of the state’s budget process, campaigns and elections, political engagement, and policy issues facing the state. The thoroughly revised Fourth Edition includes new maps and coverage of the political problems raised by persistent drought, prison reform, immigration, political disengagement among young Californians, new laws affecting voting and elections, and the controversy over mandatory vaccination of schoolchildren.
Chapter 1: Introduction
Principles for Understanding California Politics

Chapter 2: Critical Junctures: California's Political History in Brief
Early California

The Rise of the Southern Pacific Railroad


The Power of Organized Interests

Growth and Industrialization in the Golden State

The Initiative Process Takes Hold

Hyperdiversity in a Modern State

Recalling a Governor

Pushing Ahead with More Reforms

The Return of Jerry Brown

Conclusion: Political Earthquakes and Evolving Institutions

Chapter 3: Direct Democracy
The Statewide Initiative Process



Direct Democracy at the Local Level

Conclusion: The Perils and Promises of Hybrid Democracy

Chapter 4: The State Legislature
Design, Purpose, and Function of the Legislature

California Representatives at Work

Policymaking and Lawmaking

Annual Budgeting

Constituency Service and Outreach

Executive Branch Oversight


Conclusion: Of the People, for the People

Chapter 5: The Executive Branch
California's Plural Executive

California's Governor

The Constitutional Executive Officers

Administrators and Regulators

Conclusion: Competition for Power

Chapter 6: The Court System
The Three-Tiered Court System

On and Off the Court

Court Administration


Criminal Justice and Its Costs

Conclusion: Access to Justice

Chapter 7: Other Governments
County Government

Municipal Governments

Special Districts

Regional Governments


Tribal Governments

Conclusion: The State's Interlocking Systems

Chapter 8: The California Budget Process
California Budgeting 101

Mechanics of Budgeting: Revenue

Mechanics of Budgeting: Deficits and Expenditures

Political Constraints on Budgeting

Tax Burden: Highest in the Nation?

Conclusion: Budgeting under Variable Conditions

Chapter 9: Political Parties, Elections, and Campaigns
Democratic Stronghold, but Weakly Partisan

Party in the California Electorate

Party in Government

Party Organizations

Party in Informal Networks

Elections: Continuity and Change

California Campaigns

Conclusion: A Complex Electorate

Chapter 10: Political Engagement
Citizens and Politics

News Sources and Media Habits

Political Engagement and Disengagement

Major Voting Trends

Special Interest Groups: Indirectly Connecting Citizens to Government

Conclusion: An Evolving Political Community

Chapter 11: Concluding Thoughts: Political Paradoxes and Governability


Instructor Resources Site
Password-protected INSTRUCTOR RESOURCES you’ll actually use!
Save time and ease class preparation with the additional guidance and tools, including:

  • Test banks built on Bloom’s Taxonomy to provide a diverse range of test items
  • Editable, chapter-specific PowerPoint® slides offer complete flexibility for creating a multimedia presentation for the course.
  • A set of all the graphics from the text, including all of the maps, tables, and figures, in PowerPoint, .pdf, and .jpg formats for class presentations.

“This well-organized and clearly written book provides students with a solid foundation in California government and works well in an introductory course. In addition to explaining the nuts and bolts of everything from institutions to the budget to the initiative process, it explores political debates and controversies and motivates students to learn what is at stake in state level politics.”

Ronnee Schreiber
San Diego State University

“The strengths of Van Vechten’s text are its brevity and its preference for straight talking. Students appreciate the absence of hyperbole and exaggeration that tends to accompany a lot of the discussion of California politics. I am relieved to have found the book, especially since it is so much more affordable and readable than others. ”

Sarah John
Director of Research at FairVote

"Van Vechten's book is the best introduction to California politics available. Covering topics from direct democracy to citizen engagement, her analysis of California politics is of such high quality that I often use this book as my main political science textbook, even in American politics courses."

David Selby
Ohlone College

Sample Materials & Chapters

Chapter 1

Renee B. Van Vechten

Renée B. Van Vechten holds the Fletcher Jones Endowed Chair in American Politics and Policy at the University of Redlands where she is a professor of political science and chair of the public policy undergraduate program. She earned a BA in political science from the University of San Diego and a PhD from the University of California, Irvine. Van Vechten’s political science research examines legislative processes and behavior, including the impacts of political reforms such as term limits. In addition to teaching about California politics, her courses concentrate on American institutions such as Congress, as well as the politics of food,... More About Author

Also available as a South Asia Edition.

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ISBN: 9781483375595