California politics not just for celebrities

YoonLet’s play the word association game.

“California.” Go.

Chances are, most non-native responses will draw from a word bank filled with choices such as “Hollywood,” “Disneyland” and “Schwarzenegger.”

And while those who live in the United States’ most populous state may roll their eyes at these tired and unimaginative Golden State generalizations, there is little doubt that such icons have come to serve as a large part of the ritzy, fantastical aesthetic that most come to associate with the entertainment hub of the world.

As we have seen over the last decade, however, theatrics are not just limited to the movie and resort park industries.

It should come as no surprise that even politics in California have seen a very decided flair for the dramatic.

The turn of the century saw the emergence of change in the state, with Gray Davis ascending to the governorship in 1999. Riding a platform based on education, gun safety and health care reform, he marched into the seat of power with a huge groundswell of support. But mired in an energy crisis that saw rolling blackouts in a state utterly dependent on electricity as well as a nasty budget crisis, favor began to fall out with Davis on a precipitous path not unlike Harvey Dent’s.

However, in a major plot twist, the people of California decided to reelect Davis in the 2003 gubernatorial election. Unfortunately, his second term was extremely short-lived, as the same people that voted Davis into office effectively Punk’d him by recalling him 10 months later.

Thus, the beginning of the decade started with a bizarre election cycle that played out like a fitful high school relationship, and effectively set the tone for 10 years of spectacle in California.

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s victory in the resulting recall election was as much a symbolic move as it was a legally notarized event, with many a celebrity making their presence felt in the political arena.

For better or worse, the ring of political talking heads that was once an exclusive “old boy’s club” of stuffy college professors and elitist intellectuals merged with the entertainment world. Of course, it could be argued that this marriage took place more than two decades ago when actor Ronald Reagan took on the role of president in 1981.

Because of the increasing popularity of entertainment news and websites devoted to such coverage, however, the permanent spotlight affixed on the Hollywood crowd shines that much brighter today. And while this has afforded the paparazzi every conceivable opportunity to catch celebrities out and about, it appears that has also offered them a convenient on-the-go soapbox; as of late, it seems to have become chic for anyone with at least 15 minutes of fame to use two minutes of it to suddenly voice an opinion on the current state of political affairs.

The hullabaloo surrounding the hotly-contested ballot measure Proposition 8 serves as a prime example in which denouncements about the injustices of the measure became just as commonplace in interviews and media appearances as wardrobe selections and vacation plans. Suddenly, Sean Penn wasn’t just Spicoli, but a rather outspoken and well-read advocate for equal rights.

Even the upcoming gubernatorial race looks to be far more sensational than such an election should be. At the end of his current term, the Governator will be forced by California law to relinquish the position of governor because of term limit statutes. Ironically, the race for the seat vacated by the Schwarzenegger features a former two-term governor, Jerry Brown.


Brown’s been granted the opportunity to run again, as his term was before the current rule regarding term limits was put in place. For those keeping track at home, this means that in the event that Brown ekes out a victory over the field, he will enter his ninth year of service as governor, replacing a governor who maxed out at eight.

California: where the gubernatorial election is more intriguing than the Amazing Race.

Luckily for those whose stomping grounds run from Vermont to Figueroa, USC’s location in the heart of the state’s largest city allows for a very strong relationship with the California political scene. USC students were very much witnesses to the trend of dramatic political happenings over the last decade. This past semester saw a heavy student turnout in Prop 8 demonstrations and local presidential campaigning that took place during the last academic year. Members of the student body were also unwilling participants at times — for example, the numerous close encounters with LaRouchePAC tables impeding the treacherous bike convention at Hoover Street and Jefferson Boulevard.

The point being, exposure to the political climate of California is not only convenient but inevitable for a USC student.

In the grand theater of California, members of the Trojan student body may only be playing bit parts. However well-intentioned, past efforts to mobilize mass student involvement in politics have been lackluster at best, despite a perceived groundswell in activism in light of the Obama campaign and Prop 8 protests (see: student voter turnout in the California primaries was an epic failure).

But perhaps we’re only waiting for our breakout role in the years to come. After all, even the bit actors get to share the same page with the headliners. Neither Emmy nominations nor Grammy awards are prerequisites for increased participation in the political realm. With the current state of affairs being as unpredictable and uncertain as it is, now would seem like the perfect opportunity to try to steal the limelight and become more interactive within the political arena.

Either way, in using the last decade as a barometer for the future, it doesn’t appear that the extravagant workings of Californian politics will fall under the radar of the national consciousness anytime soon. It’s up to us to ensure that it doesn’t elude the student body either.

Get your popcorn ready.

Soojin Yoon is a junior majoring in public relations.