California's People, Economy, and Politics

LO1 List some of the key
events in California’s road
to statehood.
LO2 Describe the impact
railroads had on California’s
state government.
LO3 Identify the
underpinnings of the
Workingmen’s Party.
LO4 Point out the key
changes introduced by the
LO5 Summarize how the
Great Depression and World
War II changed California’s
population and ethnic
LO6 Explain the factors
that influenced postwar
political party shifts.
LO7 Discuss how
economic, demographic,
and technological changes
have impacted California
California’s People,
Economy, and Politics
Should California Become
Two States? Or Three?
ith a population likely to reach 40 million by 2015, California is home to more than six times
as many people as the average American state. California extends 770 miles north to south. Surely, if the
Mayflower had landed on the California coast, California would be a number of much smaller states today. That is not
how history worked itself out. Still, Jose Antonio Carrillo, a delegate to the California Constitutional Convention in 1849, argued
that California should be split at San Luis Obispo. Carrillo, three times mayor of Los Angeles and a distinguished fighter for Mexico
in the Mexican-American War, proposed that the southern part of California should become a territory, while the north could form
a state. Carrillo may have hoped to protect the interests of his fellow Californios, that is, Spanish-speaking former Mexican citizens.
His proposal went nowhere, however.
In the following years, at least 27 different proposals were advanced to divide California into two or more states. Most of
these notions evaporated quickly. One of the most durable was the State of Jefferson, which was to include counties from
Northern California and Southern Oregon. In 1941, residents on both sides of the border enthusiastically endorsed the project
as a way of publicizing the failure of the two states to provide the region with roads and other vital services. America’s entry
into World War II put an abrupt end to the campaign. Still the idea of the State of Jefferson lives on, thanks in part to Jefferson
Public Radio, a regional public radio network serving Southern Oregon and Northern California.
The most recent scheme was advanced following the 2008 elections by Citizens for Saving California Farming Industries. This
group advocated detaching 13 coastal counties, extending from Marin to Los Angeles counties, into a new heavily urbanized state
that presumably would leave the rest of California alone. The farm group was particularly incensed by the passage of Proposition
2, a measure aimed at guaranteeing humane treatment for farm animals. Of course, the chances of this plan succeeding were no
greater than for any earlier plan. Still, if dividing California in two were actually possible, would it be a good idea?
California Is Just Too Darn Big
alifornia is too big, too diverse, too divided by competing interest groups
to be managed by ordinary mortals, never mind superheros from the
movies. State senate districts are larger than the districts used to elect U.S. representatives. How can a state senator possibly keep in touch with his or her
constituents, to the degree expected by residents of any other state? What
do the citizens of Bakersfield really have in common with the citizens of Marin
County? Voters in these regions are not going to want the same kind of state
government, nor should they forced to have it.
Let’s start by dividing California north-south, with the South getting Santa
Barbara, Kern County south of the Tehachapi Mountains, and Inyo County
(Owens and Death valleys). San Diego and Imperial counties could reasonably
separate from the rest of the South. If ten counties in the San Francisco Bay area
and the Wine Country became a fourth new state, the inland farmers could
finally be at peace. California would then have eight seats in the U.S. Senate, a
much more reasonable representation than today’s meager two senators.
Leave Our State Alone
ividing California is a fun topic for talk show hosts, but the idea offends the
strong state patriotism felt by millions of Californians. Some say that California is ungovernable. Is the Unites States itself ungovernable, with a population eight times that of California? If California is ungovernable, it is not because
of its size but because of its laws. In no other state have the voters, through initiatives and referenda, put so much of the state’s revenue off-limits to the state
government. Only two other states require a two-thirds vote of the legislature
to pass a simple budget, even one that doesn’t increase taxes. California’s voters
created these rules and continue to support them. This may make governing
California difficult, but the state would continue to face these challenges even
if its population were a fraction of what it is today.
1. Do you believe that state government would work better if
California were split into two or more states that were more
politically and culturally homogeneous? Why or why not?
2. Would it be a good idea if the legislature could pass a budget
by a majority vote? Explain your reasoning.
• You can find the Web site of a group that wants to divide
California at
• For more information on the mythical State of Jefferson, visit
Jefferson Public Radio at and click on “state of
than 1 percent of California’s population is Native
American, and many of them feel alienated from a
society that has overwhelmed their peoples, cultures,
and traditions.
Apart from building missions, the Spaniards did
little to develop their faraway possession. Not much
changed when Mexico, which included California
within its boundaries, declared its independence from
Spain in 1822. A few thousand Mexicans quietly raised
cattle on vast ranches and continued to build the province’s small towns around their central plazas.
alifornia politics mystifies many of us, not only in
California, but around the world. Change seems
continual and often unpredictable. Political leaders
rise and fall precipitately. The governor and the legislature can’t agree on a budget on schedule. As our state
government stalls in gridlock, many issues are referred
to the voters, who are often confused by complex, sometimes obscure, ballot measures. Some say this is democracy gone mad; others have concluded that California
is ungovernable.
But however volatile or dysfunctional California
politics may seem, it is serious business that affects us
all, and it can be understood by examining the history
and present characteristics of our state—especially its
changing population and economy. Wave after wave of
immigrants has made California a diverse, multicultural
society, while new technologies repeatedly transform
the state’s economy. The resulting disparate demographic and economic interests compete for the benefits and protections conferred by government and thus
shape the state’s politics. But to understand California
today—and tomorrow—we need to know a little about
its past and about the development of these competing
Claiming Independence
Meanwhile, expansionist interests in the United States
coveted California’s rich lands and access to the Pacific
Ocean. When Mexico and the United States went to war
over Texas in 1846, Yankee immigrants to California
seized the moment and declared independence from
Mexico. After the U.S. victory, Mexico surrendered its
claim to lands extending from Texas to California. By
this time, foreigners already outnumbered Californians
of Spanish ancestry 9,000 to 7,500.
THE GOLD RUSH In 1848 gold was discovered,
and the ’49ers who started arriving the next year
brought the non-native population to 264,000 by 1852.
Many immigrants came directly from Europe. The first
Chinese people also arrived to work in the mines, which
yielded more than a billion dollars’ worth of gold in
five years.
LO1 Colonization, Rebellion,
and Statehood
P a r t 6: C a l i f o r n i a P o l i t i c s a n d G o v e r n m e n t
The Gold Rush of 1849 lured thousands of people of all colors
and creeds.
he first Californians probably were immigrants
like the rest of us who followed. Archaeologists
believe that the ancestors of American Indians
crossed an ice or land bridge or traveled by sea
from Asia to Alaska thousands of years ago and
then headed south. Europeans began exploring the
California coast in the early 1500s, but colonization
didn’t start until 1769, when the Spanish established
a string of missions and military outposts. About
300,000 Native Americans were living mostly near
the coast at that time.
These native Californians were brought to the
missions as Catholic converts and workers, but
European diseases and the destruction of the native
culture reduced their numbers to about 100,000 by
1849. Disease and massacres wiped out entire tribes,
and the Indian population continued to diminish throughout the nineteenth century. Today, less
How Wild Was the Wild West?
When people think of frontier times in the old West, the
images that come to mind are largely ones of violence. As
the Marshall Tucker Band sang about the California Gold
Rush days: “Dance hall girls were the evenin’ treat—empty
cartridges and blood lined the gutters of the street. Men were
shot down for the sake of fun, or just to hear the noise of
their forty-four guns.” But just how wild was the Wild West in
The Perception
he California mining communities that were swiftly erected
in 1848 and 1849 were filled with young men looking for
a chance to get rich quick. As saloons, brothels, and gambling
dens opened up, trouble inevitably followed. With no regular
courts or officers of the law, disputes were often settled by violence. Before long, informal miners’ courts were organized, but
too often these courts favored the powerful and popular at the
expense of the week and unpopular.
Travel to the mining camps was remarkably peaceful as
well. It was dangerous, of course. Thousands of travelers died
due to accidents and disease. People starved, fell off horses,
drowned, were run over by wagons, or died of dysentery and
cholera. Hardly any were killed by fellow travelers or by native
Americans. In the West as a whole, many people did carry guns
to hunt for food and protect themselves from wild animals.
Firearms were banned, however, in many western towns. Larry
Schweikart, a conservative historian, once calculated that there
were fewer than a dozen bank robberies in the entire frontier
West from 1859 to 1900. That’s fewer such robberies than
Schweikart’s home of Dayton, Ohio experienced annually.
The myth of the lawless West was created while the frontier was still open. Writers in the East made up stories about
western criminals for dime novels and other publications.
Hollywood later fed the myth, creating legends that would
draw customers into the theaters. In reality, most settlers,
whether they were miners, cowboys, or farmers, were honest
and hardworking.
The Reality
n time, federal and state governments caught up with the
rapid expansion in population and sent in marshals, sheriffs, and judges to provide a more equitable legal system. Even
before the arrival of official law and order, however, the camps
quickly evolved rules for establishing mining claims and water
rights. A considerable degree of cooperation existed, despite
the anarchic conditions.
The structure of statehood
The surge in population and commerce moved the new
Californians to political action. A constitutional convention consisting of forty-eight delegates (only seven of whom
were native Californians) threw together the Constitution
of 1849 by cutting and pasting from those of existing
states, and requested statehood, which the U.S. Congress
quickly granted. The constitutional structure of the new
state was remarkably similar to what we have today, with
a two-house legislature, a supreme court, and an executive branch consisting of a governor, lieutenant governor,
controller, attorney general, and superintendent of public
instruction. The constitution also included a bill of rights,
but only white males were allowed to vote. California’s
Chinese, African American, and Native American residents
Blog On hosts a variety of fascinating
articles on American history, including a discussion of the
Wild West at Historian Peter Hill weighs in
at For lyrics to
“Fire on the Mountain,” see
were soon prohibited by law from owning land, testifying
in court, or attending public schools.
The voters approved the constitution, and San Jose
became the first state capitol. With housing in short
supply, many newly elected legislators had to lodge in
tents, and the primitive living conditions were exacerbated by heavy rain and
flooding. They neverConstitution of 1879
theless became known
California’s second constitution
as “the legislature of a
retained the basic structures of
the Constitution of 1849 but
thousand drinks.” The
added institutions to regulate
state capitol soon moved
railroads and public utilities and
on to Vallejo and Benicia,
to ensure fair tax assessments.
finally settling in 1854 in
Chinese were denied the right to
Sacramento—closer to
vote, own land, or work for the
the gold fields.
C h a P t e r 1 7 : C a l i f o r n i a ’s P e o P l e , e C o n o m y , a n d P o l i t i C s
A Political Machine
rush ended, a land rush began. While
When the transcontinental track
small homesteads were common in
is the great tool
was completed in 1869, the
other states because of federal ownthrough whose means
Southern Pacific expanded its
ership of land, much of California
system throughout the state by
labor and skill become
had been divided into huge tracts by
building new lines and buying
Spanish and Mexican land grants.
universally co-operative.”
up existing ones. The railroad
As early as 1870, a few hundred
crushed competitors by cutting
~ L e L a n d S ta n f o r d ~
men owned most of the farmland.
its shipping charges, and by the
eighth governor of California,
Their ranches were the forerunners
1880s it had become the state’s
f o u n d e r o f s ta n f o r d u n i v e r s i t y
of contemporary agribusiness cordominant transportation company
porations, and as the mainstay of the
as well as its largest private landstate’s economy, they exercised even more
owner, owning 11 percent of the entire
clout than their modern successors.
state. With its business agents doubling as
In less than fifty years, California belonged to
political representatives in almost every California
three different nations. During the same period, its econcity and county, the Southern Pacific soon developed
omy and population changed dramatically as hundreds
a formidable political machine. “The Octopus,” as
of thousands of immigrants from all over the world came
novelist Frank Norris called the railroad, placed
to claim their share of the “Golden State.” The pattern of
allies in state and local offices through its control
a rapidly evolving, multicultural polity was set.
of both the Republican and Democratic parties.
Once there, these officials protected the interests of
the Southern Pacific if they wanted to continue in
LO2 office. County tax assessors who were supported by
the political machine set favorable tax rates for the
railroad, while the machine-controlled legislature
ensured a hands-off policy by state government.
echnology wrought the next transformation in the
form of railroads. In 1861 Sacramento merchants
Charles Crocker, Mark Hopkins,
Collis Huntington, and Leland
Stanford founded the railroad that
The Southern Pacific Railroad was completed on May 10, 1869, due in large part to
would become the Southern Pacific.
the dedication and hard work of thousands of Chinese laborers.
They persuaded Congress to provide
millions of dollars in land grants and
loan subsidies for a railroad linking
California with the eastern United
States, thus greatly expanding the market for California products. Leland
Stanford, then governor, used his influence to provide state assistance. Cities
and counties also contributed, under
the threat of being bypassed by the
railroad. To obtain workers at cheap
rates, the railroad builders imported
15,000 Chinese laborers.
Railroads, Machines, and
Railroad company founded in 1861;
developed a political machine that dominated California state politics through
the turn of the century.
© 2009
Southern Pacific Railroad P a r t 6: C a l i f o r n i a P o l i t i c s a n d G o v e r n m e n t
LO3 The Workingmen’s Party
“Workingmen must form a
party of their own, take charge
of the government, dispose gilded
fraud, and put honest toil in
eople in small towns and rural areas who were
unwilling to support the machine lost jobs, business,
and other benefits. Some moved to cities, especially
San Francisco, where manufacturing jobs were available. Chinese workers who were brought to California
to build the railroad also sought work in the cities when
it was completed. But when a depression in the 1870s
made jobs scarce, these newcomers faced hostile treatment from earlier immigrants. Led by Denis Kearney,
Irish immigrants became the core of the Workingmen’s
Party, a political organization that blamed economic
difficulties on the railroad and the Chinese.
Small farmers who opposed the railroad united
through the Grange movement. In 1879 the Grangers
and the Workingmen’s Party called California’s second
constitutional convention in hopes of breaking the railroad’s hold on the state. The Constitution of 1879 mandated regulation of railroads, utilities, banks, and other
corporations. An elected State Board of Equalization
was set up to ensure the fairness of local tax assessments on railroads and their friends, as well as their
enemies. The new constitution also prohibited the
Chinese from owning land, voting, or working for state
or local government.
The railroad soon reclaimed power, however, gaining control of the very agencies that were created to
regulate it. Nonetheless, the efforts made during this
period to regulate big business and control racial relations became recurring themes in California life and
~ Dennis Kearney ~
P o p u l i s t, 1847 – 1907
politics, and much of the Constitution of 1879 remains
intact today.
LO4 The Progressives
he growth fostered by the railroad eventually produced
a new middle class, encompassing merchants, doctors,
lawyers, teachers, and skilled workers, who were not
dependent on the railroad. They objected to the corrupt
practices and favoritism of the railroad’s political machine,
which they perceived as being responsible for restraining
economic development of their communities. Instead, the
new middle class demanded honesty and competence,
which they called “good government.” In 1907 a number of these crusaders established the Lincoln-Roosevelt
League, a reform group
within the Republican
Party, and became part of
Workingmen’s Party the national Progressive
Denis Kearney’s anti-railroad,
anti-Chinese organization; instrumovement. Their leader,
mental in rewriting California’s
Hiram Johnson, was
constitution in 1879.
elected governor in 1910;
they also captured control
Constitution of 1879 California’s second constitution
of the state legislature.
“The Chinese Must Go!” was the slogan of the
Workingmen’s Party of California, shown here on this
1879 “ticket.” Why did the Workingmen’s Party blame the
Chinese for economic difficulties?
California Historical Society
The Reform
To break the power of the
machine, the Progressives
introduced a new wave
of reforms that shape
California politics to this
day. Predictably, they created a new regulatory
agency, the Public Utilities
retained the basic structures of
the Constitution of 1849 but
added institutions to regulate
railroads and public utilities and
to ensure fair tax assessments.
Chinese were denied the right to
vote, own land, or work for the
Progressives Members of
an anti-machine reform movement that reshaped the state’s
political institutions between
1907 and the 1920s.
C h a p t e r 1 7 : C a l i f o r n i a ’s P e o p l e , E c o n o m y , a n d P o l i t i c s
Were the Progressives
Really Progressive?
n assessing the Progressives, it helps to understand
their backgrounds. Unlike the Populists of the 1890s,
who were typically farmers or miners, the Progressives
of the early twentieth century were mostly townspeople.
Many were lawyers, small businessmen or publishers.
Resolutely middle class, the Progressives were alarmed at
the enormous power accumulated by great corporations
such as the Southern Pacific Railroad. But they also were
afraid of radicalism among members of the working class.
Labor unions, socialism, and after the Russian Revolution,
communism—these too were dangers, alongside the
urban political machines and the railroads. As reformers,
the Progressives looked not only to the future, but to an
idealized American past of yeoman individuals, who did
not seek employment by large corporations and who
had no need to rebel against them, either. Given this philosophy, was it even possible for the Progressives to be
“progressive” in the sense we give the term today? Did
they seek to champion the underdog? To improve the
condition of the poor and the working class?
Progressive Reforms Were of
Great Benefit to Working People
Those who defend the Progressives’ record admit that many
Progressives shared a deep distrust of the working class. Still,
many were highly sympathetic to the problems of working
people. Governor Hiram Johnson (1911–1917) had served
as an attorney for the Teamsters Union, and he hailed from
San Francisco, one of the most organized cities in the nation.
Organized labor made some of its greatest legal gains
under Johnson. Chief among these victories was a Worker’s
Compensation Act to benefit employees injured on the job.
The first measure, passed in 1911, was weak. It made compensation by employers voluntary. A 1913 law, however,
required mandatory compensation.
A minimum wage and an eight-hour day law were established for working women. While modern feminists typically
oppose employment legislation that applies only to women,
in the belief that such laws can be used to bar women from
particular forms of employment, these early California protections were created in response to the demands of Progressive
women. Male or female, Progressives were strong advocates
of votes for women. Working people, along with almost
P a r t 6: C a l i f o r n i a P o l i t i C s a n d G o v e r n m e n t
everyone else, benefited from years of good government and
the curbing of the power of the Southern Pacific. On a national
level, Progressive leaders such as Theodore Roosevelt even
advocated universal health insurance, something the country
wouldn’t see during the rest of the twentieth century.
But You’d Better Be
a White Protestant Worker
Critics of the Progressives point out that many of them were
quite hostile to labor. In Los Angeles, Progressives allied with
Harrison Otis, the reactionary publisher of the Los Angeles
Times, to enact anti-picketing and open shop ordinances
that crippled the union movement in that city. More generally, almost all of the Progressives were hostile to immigrants,
in particular to Catholics such as the Irish and the Italians.
Prohibition of the manufacture, sale, and consumption of
alcoholic beverages was a major Progressive goal. It finally
achieved nationwide success in 1919 through the Eighteenth
Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. (Of course, state-level
prohibition never triumphed in California, which then as now
produced most of the nation’s wine.) Prohibition was seen by
all concerned as a direct attempt to exercise social control
over Catholic working-class communities.
When it came to African Americans or especially Asian
Americans, Progressives ventured far beyond simple racism into complete hostility. The 1911 Alien Land Law, which
barred Japanese Americans from owning or leasing land,
was in effect an attempt to run that community out of the
state. Even poor whites might find themselves in danger.
Leading Progressives, including both presidential candidates Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, endorsed
the eugenics movement, which called for eliminating “unfit”
individuals from the gene pool. Poverty was generally taken
as a sign of unfitness. Among other things, the eugenics
movement called for the sterilization of persons who were
mentally handicapped or ill. California passed a compulsory
sterilization law in 1909, and in subsequent years it led the
nation in the number of sterilizations. These were not policies we would be willing to label “progressive” today.
For Critical Analysis The Progressives
were hardly the only racists in the early twentieth
century. Racist views were almost universal among
whites. A majority of whites were also firm believers
in Christianity. How might white Americans have
accommodated Christian doctrine to racist beliefs?
increasingly diverse economy. The emerging oil, automobile, and trucking industries gave the state alternative means of transportation and shipping. These and
other growing industries also restructured economic
and political power in California.
POWER TO THE PEOPLE The reform movement
waned in the 1920s, but the Progressive legacy of
weak political parties and direct democracy opened up
California’s politics to its citizens, as well as to powerful interest groups and individual candidates with strong
personalities. A long and detailed constitution is also part
of the legacy. The Progressives instituted their reforms
by amending (and thus lengthening) the Constitution of
1879 rather than calling for a new constitutional convention. Direct democracy subsequently enabled voters
and interest groups to amend the constitution, which has
become an extraordinarily lengthy document over time.
LO5 The Great Depression and
World War II
alifornia’s population grew by more than 2 million in
the 1920s (see Table 17–1). Most of the newcomers
headed for Los Angeles, where employment opportunities in shipping, filmmaking, and manufacturing (of
clothing, automobiles, and aircraft) abounded. Then came
the Great Depression of the 1930s, which saw the unemployment rate soar from 3 percent in 1925 to 33 percent
by 1933. Even so, more than a million people still came
Aiko (Grace) Obata Amemiya speaks to
the University of California Board of
Regents about being interned while
studying at UC Berkeley in 1942. In 2009,
the University of California granted
honorary degrees to hundreds of
Japanese Americans whose studies were
interrupted when they were sent to
internment camps during World
War II.
AP Photo/Jeff Chiu
Commission (PUC), for the railroads and utilities. Most
of their reforms, however, aimed at weakening the political parties as tools of bosses and machines. Instead of
party bosses handpicking candidates at party conventions, the voters now were given the power to select their
party’s nominees for office in primary elections. Crossfiling further diluted party power by allowing candidates
to file for and win the nominations of more than one
political party. The Progressives made city and county
elections nonpartisan by removing party labels from the
ballot altogether. They also created a civil service system
to select state employees on the basis of their qualifications rather than their political connections.
Finally, the Progressives introduced direct democracy, which allowed the voters to amend the constitution
and create laws through initiatives and referenda and
to recall, or remove, elected officials before their term
expired. Supporters of an initiative, referendum, or recall
must circulate petitions and collect a specified number of
signatures of registered voters before it becomes a ballot
measure or proposition.
Like the Workingmen’s Party before them, the
Progressives were concerned about immigration.
Antagonism toward recent Japanese immigrants (72,000
by 1910) resulted in Progressive support for a ban on
land ownership by aliens and the National Immigration
Act of 1924, which effectively halted Japanese immigration. Other changes under the Progressives included the
right of women to vote, child labor and workers’ compensation laws, and conservation programs to protect
natural resources.
The railroad’s political machine eventually died,
thanks to the Progressive reforms as well as an
C h a p t e r 1 7 : C a l i f o r n i a ’s P e o p l e , E c o n o m y , a n d P o l i t i c s
Table 17–1
California’s Population Growth, Selected
Decades, 1850–2009
Percentage of U.S. Population
Source: U.S. Census and California Department of Finance.
© Bettmann/Corbis
to California, including thousands of poor white immigrants from the “dust bowl” of the drought-impacted
Midwest. Many wandered through California’s great
Central Valley in search of work, displacing Mexicans,
who earlier had supplanted the Chinese and Japanese, as
the state’s farm workers. Racial antagonism ran high, and
many Mexicans were arbitrarily sent back to Mexico.
Labor unrest reached a crescendo in the early 1930s, as
workers on farms, in canneries, and on the docks of San
Francisco and Los Angeles fought for higher wages and
an eight-hour workday.
The immigrants and union activists of the 1920s and
1930s also changed California politics. Many
registered as Democrats, thus challenging the dominant Republicans. The
Depression and President Franklin
Roosevelt’s popular New Deal
helped the Democrats become
California’s majority party in registration, although winning elections
proved more difficult. Their biggest boost came from Upton
Sinclair, a novelist, a socialist,
and the Democratic candidate
for governor in 1934.
His End Poverty in
California (EPIC) movement
almost led to an election victory, but the state’s conservative establishment spent an
unprecedented $10 million
to defeat him. The Democrats
finally gained the governorship
P a r t 6: C a l i f o r n i a P o l i t i c s a n d G o v e r n m e n t
“The private control
of credit
is the modern
form of slavery.”
~ Up t o n S i n cl a i r , J r . ~
American novelist
1878 – 1968
in 1938, but their candidate, Culbert Olson, was the only
Democratic winner between 1894 and 1958.
An Economic Boom
World War II revived the economic boom. The federal
government spent $35 billion in California between
1940 and 1946, creating 500,000 jobs in defense
industries. California’s radio, electronics, and aircraft
industries grew at phenomenal rates. The jobs brought
new immigrants, including many African Americans.
Although their proportion of the state’s population
quadrupled during the 1940s, African Americans were
on the periphery of the state’s racial conflicts—unlike
Japanese and Mexican Americans. During the war, more
than 100,000 Japanese Americans, suspected of loyalty
to their ancestral homeland, were sent to prison camps
(officially called “internment” centers), and antagonism
toward Mexican Americans resulted in the “Zoot Suit
Riots” in Los Angeles in
1943, when Anglo sailors and police attacked
Mexican Americans wearing distinctive “Zoot suit”style clothing.
Upton Sinclair as he broadcast a
speech over radio station KHJ on
his own “EPIC” program. The word
“EPIC” was formed from the words,
“End Poverty in California” and was
the Sinclair slogan during his fight
for the Democratic nomination for
governor in 1934.
LO6 Postwar Politics
© Acme Photo/Corbis
The Central Valley Water Project, part of President
Roosevelt’s National Recovery Program for California
begun in the 1930s, brought thousands of jobs and
irrigation to the desert.
While the cities boomed, with defense industries
becoming permanent fixtures and aerospace and electronics adding to the momentum, the Central Valley
bloomed, thanks to water projects initiated by the
state and federal governments during the 1930s.
Dams and canals brought water to the desert and
reaffirmed agriculture as a mainstay of California’s
voters chose a Democratic governor during the
Depression, they returned to the Republican fold as
the economy revived. Earl Warren, a new breed of
moderate, urbane Republican, was elected governor
in 1942, 1946, and 1950, becoming the only individual to win the office three times. Warren used
cross-filing to win the nominations of both parties
and staked out a relationship with the voters that he
claimed was above party politics. The classic example
of California’s personality-oriented politics, Warren
left the state in 1953 to become chief justice of the
U.S. Supreme Court.
n 1958 the Republican Party was in disarray because of
infighting. Californians elected a Democratic governor,
Edmund G. “Pat” Brown, and a Democratic majority
in the state legislature. To prevent Republicans from taking advantage of cross-filing again, the state’s new leaders immediately outlawed that electoral device.
In control of both the governor’s office and the
legislature for the first time in the twentieth century,
Democrats moved aggressively to develop the state’s
infrastructure. Completion of the massive California
Water Project, construction of the state highway network, and creation of an unparalleled higher education
system were among the advances to accommodate a
growing population. But all these programs cost money,
and after opening their purse strings during the eightyear tenure of Pat Brown, Californians became more
cautious about the state’s direction. Race riots precipitated by police brutality in Los Angeles, and student
unrest over the Vietnam War, also turned the voters
against liberal Democrats such as Brown.
A Republican Revival
In 1966 Republican Ronald Reagan was elected
governor. Reagan revived the California Republican
Party and moved the state in a more conservative
direction before going on to serve as president. His
successor as governor, Democrat Edmund G. “Jerry”
Brown, Jr., was the son of the earlier Governor Brown
and a liberal on social issues. Like Reagan, however,
the younger Brown led California away from spending on growth-inducing infrastructure, such as highways and schools. In 1978 the voters solidified this
change with the watershed tax-cutting initiative,
Proposition 13 (see Chapter 24). Brown was followed
by Republicans George Deukmejian in 1982 and Pete
Wilson in 1990, each of whom served two terms in
office. Wilson was initially seen as a moderate, but he
moved to the right on welfare, immigration, crime,
and affirmative action to win reelection in 1994 and,
in the process, alienated many minority voters from
the Republican Party.
In 1998 California elected Gray Davis, its first
Democratic governor in 16 years. He was reelected in
2002 despite voter concerns about an energy crisis, a
recession, and a growing budget deficit. As a consequence
of these crises and what some perceived as an arrogant
attitude, Davis faced an unprecedented recall election in
October 2003. The voters removed him from office and
C h a p t e r 1 7 : C a l i f o r n i a ’s P e o p l e , E c o n o m y , a n d P o l i t i c s
Bill Ray/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images
Continued Growth
Ronald and Nancy Reagan celebrate his victory in the
California Governor’s race in 1966 at the Biltmore Hotel in
Los Angeles, California.
replaced him with Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger,
who was reelected in 2006.
DEMOCRATIC SUPPORT FROM VOTERS California voters opted for Republicans in all but one
presidential contest between 1948 and 1988 but have
supported Democrats in every election
since. Democrats have had more consistent success in the state legislature and
the congressional delegation, where they
have been the dominant party since 1960.
The challenges of governing California
have been exacerbated by recurring conflicts between a Democratic legislature
and Republican governors, as well as the
state’s unusually high requirements for
enacting the state budget. Meanwhile, the
voters have become increasingly involved
in policymaking by initiative and referendum (see Chapter 18). Amendments to
California’s constitution, which require
voter approval, appear on almost every
state ballot. As a consequence, California’s
Constitution of 1879 has been amended
nearly 500 times; the U.S. Constitution
includes just 27 amendments.
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Throughout these changes, the state has continued to grow, outpacing most other states so much
that the California delegation to the U.S. House of
Representatives now numbers fifty-three—more than
twenty-one other states combined. Much of this
growth was the result of a new wave of immigration
facilitated by more flexible national immigration laws
during the 1960s and 1970s. Immigration from Asia
increased greatly, especially from Southeast Asia after
the Vietnam War. A national amnesty for illegal residents also enabled many Mexicans to gain citizenship
and bring their families from Mexico. In all, 85 percent
of the 6 million newcomers and births in California
in the 1980s were Asian, Latino, or black. Growth
slowed in the 1990s, as 2 million more people left the
state than came to it from other states, but California’s
population continued to increase as a result of births
and immigration from abroad. In 1990 whites made
up 57 percent of the state’s population; by 2000 they
were 47 percent.
RACIAL CONFLICT Constantly increasing diversity enlivened California’s culture and provided a
steady flow of new workers, but it also increased tensions. Some affluent Californians retreated to gated
Demonstrators at a Los Angeles immigrant rights rally in
2006 are being watched by a gang officer. Are immigrants
to blame for racial conflict?
communities; others fled the state. Racial conflict broke
out between gangs and in schools and prisons. As in difficult economic times throughout California’s history, a
recession and recurring state budget deficits during the
early 1990s led many Californians, including Governor
Wilson, to blame immigrants, especially those who were
in California illegally. A series of ballot measures raised
divisive, race-related issues such as illegal immigration,
bilingualism, and affirmative action. The issue of illegal immigration and public
services for such immigrants
enflames California politics
to this day, although the
increasing electoral clout of
minorities and big public
. . . it is always about
demonstrations in support
~ c e s a r c h av e z ~
Civil rights activist
of immigrants have provided
and labor organizer
some balance.
Half of California—mostly desert and mountains—
is owned by the state and federal governments. In the
rural areas, a few big farm corporations control much
of the state’s rich farmlands. These enormous corporate farms, known as agribusinesses, make California
the nation’s leading farm state, producing more than
350 crops and providing 45 percent of the fruits and
vegetables and 25 percent of the table food consumed
nationally. Fresno County alone produces more farm
products than twenty-four
states combined.
“The fight is never about
grapes or lettuce
LO7 California Today
f California were an independent nation, its economy
would rank seventh or eighth in the world, with an
annual gross national product exceeding $1.8 trillion.
Much of the state’s strength stems from its economic
diversity (see Table 17–2). The elements of this diversity
constitute powerful political interests in state politics.
Table 17–2
California’s Economy
Industrial Sector
(in millions)
Services (business, health, leisure)
$ 478,513
Government (includes schools)
Wholesale and retail trade
Finance, insurance, and real estate
Transportation and utilities
Information, telecommunications,
Natural resources, mining
Total, all sectors
Source: California Employment Development Department, May 2006,; and U.S.
Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis, Survey of Current Business, June 2008.
people. “
Agriculture Industry
State politics affects this
huge economic force in
many ways, but most notably in labor relations, environmental regulation, and
water supply. Farmers and
their employees have battled for decades over issues
ranging from wages to safety. Under the leadership of
César Chávez and the United Farm Workers union,
laborers organized and, supported by public boycotts of certain farm products, achieved some victories for workers, but the struggle continues today.
California’s agricultural industry is also caught up
in environmental issues, including the use of pesticides and the pollution of water supplies. In addition,
booming growth in the Central Valley is resulting in
the urbanization of farmland, which brings “city”
problems such as traffic and crowded schools to
once-rural areas. The biggest issue, however, is always
water. Most of California’s cities and farmlands must
import water from other parts of the state. Thanks to
government subsidies, farmers claim 80 percent of the
state’s water supply at prices so low that they have
little reason to improve inefficient irrigation systems.
Meanwhile, the growth of urban areas is limited by
their water supplies. Today, agriculture is in the thick
of California politics as the state strives to balance an
essential and powerful industry with the interests of
its other citizens.
Economic Diversity
Agriculture is big business, but many more Californians
work in manufacturing, especially in the aerospace,
defense, and high-tech industries. Even more people
are employed in postindustrial occupations such as
retail sales, finance, tourism, and services. Government
C h a p t e r 1 7 : C a l i f o r n i a ’s P e o p l e , E c o n o m y , a n d P o l i t i c s
tech boom, California hosted one-fourth of the nation’s
high-tech firms, which provided nearly a million jobs.
Half of the nation’s computer engineers worked in
Silicon Valley, named after the silicon chip that revolutionized the computer industry. Running between
San Jose and San Francisco, Silicon Valley became
a center for innovation in technology, from technical instruments, computer chips, networking equipment, workstations, and software to Internet-based
“dot-com” businesses. Biomedical and pharmaceutical companies also exploded, further contributing to
California’s transformation.
AP Photo/Adele Starr
Cesar Chavez (1927–1993),
co-founder of the United
Farm Workers of America.
technology also spurred rapid expansion of the entertainment industry, long a key component of California’s
economy. This particularly benefited the Los Angeles
area, which had been hit hard by cuts in defense spending. Together, entertainment and tourism provide more
than 500,000 jobs for Californians. Half of these are in
film and television, but tourism remains a bastion of the
economy, with California regularly ranking first among
the states in visitors. Along with agriculture, high-tech,
telecommunications, and other industries, these businesses have made California a leader in both international and domestic trade. California’s exports totaled
policies on growth, the environment, and taxation affect
all of these employment sectors, and all suffer when any
one sector goes into a slump.
The defense industry did just that in the early
1990s, when the federal government reduced spending
on expensive military programs and bases after the collapse of communism in the Soviet Union and the end of
the Cold War. Retrenchment cost California
175,000 defense-related jobs between
These employees work in the Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto, where
1988 and 1995, amounting to 55 percent
the atmosphere is casual and laid-back. Founded in 2004, Facebook now
of the entire industry sector.1 Adjusted for
employs 700 people. What impact could the success of Facebook have on
inflation, military spending in California
California’s current economic crisis?
today is half what it was in 1988. This
negative “peace dividend” coincided with
a national recession that encouraged other
manufacturers to flee California for states
with lower taxes and wages. Altogether,
more than 800,000 jobs were lost during
the recession of the 1990s.2
industries declined, others thrived, especially telecommunications, entertainment,
medical equipment, international trade,
and, above all, high-tech business and
manufacturing. Spawned by the defense
and aerospace companies that withered in
the early 1990s, at the peak of the highSilicon Valley Top area for hightech industries; located between San
Jose and San Francisco.
Giles Mingasson/Getty Images
HIGH-TECH BOOM Although some
P a r t 6: C a l i f o r n i a P o l i t i c s a n d G o v e r n m e n t
$117 billion in 2005—36 percent of this trade was in
computers and electronic products.3 Much of that trade
goes through the massive port complex of Los Angeles/
Long Beach, where over 40 percent of all U.S. imports
by ship arrive.4
Economic Decline
But the California economy has been on a roller
coaster for the past few years, in and out of recession. Factors beyond California started the slide; the
terrible events of September 11, 2001, exacerbated it.
Then the California-centered Internet boom went bust
as thousands of dot-com companies failed to generate
projected profits. The entire high-tech industry went
into decline, and tens of thousands of workers lost
their jobs, some of which were “off-shored” (moved
to other countries). At about the same time, an energy
crisis hit California. The state had deregulated energy
suppliers in 1996 at the urging of industry, but by
2000, prices for gas and electricity had risen and parts
of the state experienced shortages of electrical power.
Belatedly, Governor Davis took action to resolve the
crisis, but his initial caution and the exorbitant prices
the state paid to assure supplies caused his popularity to slump. Like the Workingmen’s Party and the
Progressives who followed, some political leaders
called for greater regulation or even public ownership
of power supplies.
Adapting to Change through Diversity
Throughout its history, California has experienced
economic ups and downs like these, recovered, reinvented itself, and moved on, thanks to the diversity of
its economy and its people and their ability to adapt to
change. Most other states lack these advantages; some
are dependent on a single industry or product, and
none can match the energy and optimism brought by
Religious leaders join activists angered by Governor Schwarzenegger’s veto of a
bill that would have allowed undocumented immigrants to drive legally.
AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes
fornia was soon mired in recession,
with unemployment reaching 7
percent statewide and 9 percent in
Silicon Valley (the national rate was
5.9 percent) in 2003. Silicon Valley
alone lost 200,000 jobs—about 20
percent of its total job base.5 The
impact of the recession was exacerbated when California industries
moved jobs to other states or countries where they could operate more
profitably. In 2002, Texas passed
California as the nation’s biggest
When tax revenues rose during the heady days of the dot-coms,
Governor Davis and the legislature
had expanded programs and cut
some fees and taxes. But when the
boom ended, tax revenues declined
precipitously, producing a state
budget deficit that ultimately exceeded $30 billion.
The deficit and other issues plunged California into
a crisis that continued beyond the recall of Governor
Davis in 2003. After a brief resurgence in 2006–2007,
California’s economy slipped back toward recession in
2008, as unemployment reached 7.7 percent (the U.S.
rate was 6.1 percent) and then 11.6 percent in 2009
(again higher than the U.S. average). California has lost
hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs since the
1990s, as employers migrated to other states, but by
2009, employment in all sectors was in decline. The
national home finance and foreclosure crisis also hit the
California housing market and construction industry
hard in 2008. Governor Schwarzenegger found himself faced with the even worse fiscal problems than his
predecessor—and nearly the same low public approval
C h a p t e r 1 7 : C a l i f o r n i a ’s P e o p l e , E c o n o m y , a n d P o l i t i c s
Why State Governments
Can’t Stimuate the
During a recession, individuals and businesses in the private
sector reduce the amount that they borrow and spend. In a serious recession, private sector borrowing and spending can collapse. Conventional economic policy is that in a recession, the
federal government should run a budget deficit. The borrowing
required to fund the deficit—and the spending based on that
borrowing—help make up for the reduction in borrowing and
spending by the private sector. As a result, the economic downturn is softened, and the economy can right itself sooner. We
described this policy recommendation in Chapter 14 and also in
the Our Government’s Response to the Economic Crisis feature in
Chapter 3.
The federal government is only part of our American system
of government, however. We must also consider the states.
When we ask how much “the government” borrows and spends,
the real answer must include the borrowing and spending of
state and local governments. In a recession, the actions taken by
these governments can run directly counter to what the federal
government is trying to do. The federal government tries to run
an “anti-cyclical” fiscal policy that counteracts the economy’s
booms and busts. State and local policy, however, is typically
“pro-cyclical.” In California and elsewhere, state borrowing and
spending policies tend to make recessions worse than they
already are.
Why the States Must Cut Spending
hy is state and local spending pro-cyclical? The answer is that the
states, unlike the federal government, do not have an essentially
unlimited ability to borrow money. All states except Vermont have a balanced budget requirement written into the state constitution.
In California and other states, a recession means that the state’s income falls. Indeed, such falling revenues have been a particular problem for California, because the state has relied heavily on a progressive
income tax that collects large sums from the state’s richest residents. In
a recession, the income of the rich actually falls much faster than the
income of ordinary people. Much of their income in good years, after
all, comes from higher prices of stocks on Wall Street and high business
profits. In bad years, these sources of income can experience spectacular declines. Of course, the very rich have plenty of resources to keep the
wolf from the door, even in years when they are not doing well. States
such as California that live by taxing the variable income of the wealthy,
however, can find themselves in big trouble.
Anyone who has followed California politics knows full well that
state governments can and do borrow. Students of California government also know that excessive borrowing can get a state into serious financial trouble. Further, in many states, California included, political and
legal barriers make borrowing difficult. The inevitable result: in times of
crisis, the state must cut its spending to help balance the budget. Even
as the federal government is increasing its spending, the states must cut
back. It follows that the total government effort to combat a recession is
much less effective than you might think if you only look at the actions
of the federal government.
Uncle Sam to the Rescue?
ne way to counteract pro-cyclical state and local spending is for
the federal government to pass funds directly to the states as part
of a stimulus plan. In February 2009, the Obama stimulus package indeed allocated $144 billion in fiscal relief to state governments, much
of it in the form of support for Medicaid and education programs. Infrastructure spending promised additional sums. The bill initially passed by
the U.S. House promised tens of billions more, but a group of key senators, notably including Republicans Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of
Maine, demanded that state fiscal relief be trimmed as part of the price
of their support. California moved more quickly than any other state to
collect its share. By August, the state had banked about 60 percent of
its $19 billion allocation. Nationally, experts calculated that the federal
support was less than half of what the states needed to prevent major
spending cuts.
For Critical Analysis In your opinion, how tightly should state government borrowing be restrained?
Explain your reasoning.
California’s constant flow of immigrants eager to take
jobs in the state’s new and old industries.
California consistently attracts more immigrants
than any other state; as of 2008, 27 percent of the
state’s population (9.9 million people) was foreign born.
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Ninety percent of California’s immigrants are from
Latin America (mostly Mexico) or Asia (especially the
Philippines, China, Vietnam, India, and Korea). An estimated 3 million immigrants are in California illegally.6
Nearly 40 percent of all Californians over the age of five
speak a language other than English at
and $62,000 for Asians, the median
home, resulting in a major challenge
was $50,000 for blacks and $37,500
for California schools. As in past
for Latinos. Census data also show
is a garden of eden,
centuries, immigration and lana growing gap between rich and
a paradise to live in or see;
guage have been hot-button politpoor.
ical issues in California in recent
years. The extent of California’s
you won’t find it so hot
CLASS As the poor grow in
ethnic diversity is indicated in
if you aint got the do re mi.”
number, some observers fear that
Figure 17–1. Although nonCalifornia’s middle class is vanLatino whites remain the single
~ Woody Guthrie ~
ishing. Once a majority, many of
largest group, they are no longer a
American singer-songwriter
the middle class have slipped down
majority. Asian and Latino numbers
the economic ladder and others have
have grown rapidly since the 1970s,
fled the state. Instead of a class
while the black and white proportions of
structure with a great bulge in the center,
California’s population have decreased. This
California now exhibits an “hourglass economy”
shift is slowly producing a shift in political power
with many people doing very well at the top, many
as well.
barely getting by at the bottom, and fewer and fewer in
the middle. From 1999 to 2006, over two-thirds of new
Economic Disparity
jobs were in the top or bottom fifths of the pay scale.8
The realization of the California dream is not shared
The costs of housing and health care are at the
equally among these groups. As of 2007, the income
heart of this problem. With a median price of $594,530
of 13.3 percent of Californians fell below the federal
in 2007, only 26% of California families could afford
poverty level (the national rate was also 13.3 percent).
to purchase a home. The median price in 2009 fell to
Over half the kids in California schools qualify for free
$274,740, however, as the nationwide housing crisis hit
or reduced-price meals.7 The gap between rich and poor
California.9 Affordability
in California is among the largest in the United States
increased for some famiand is still growing. Poverty is worst among Latinos,
lies, but many more suf“hourglass economy” Tendency of California economy
blacks, and Southeast Asians, who tend to occupy the
fered substantial losses
to include many people doing
bottom of the class structure and have low-paying serin equity in their homes
very well at the top, many barely
vice jobs; other Asians, along with Anglos, predominate
and some lost their
getting by at the bottom, and
in the more comfortable professional classes. The ecohomes to foreclosure. As
fewer and fewer in the middle;
nomic disparities are profound: whereas the median
a result, home ownership
symptomatic of California’s vanhousehold income in 2004 was $66,000 for whites
in California lags well
ishing middle class.
Figure 17–1
California’s Growing Racial and Ethnic Diversity
Non-Latino white
Asian/Pacific Islander
Native American
Source: U.S. Census; California Department of Finance, Population Projections by Race/Ethnicity for California and Its Counties, 2000–2050, (July 11, 2008).
C h a p t e r 1 7 : C a l i f o r n i a ’s P e o p l e , E c o n o m y , a n d P o l i t i c s
behind the national average, especially for Latinos and
blacks. Health care is also a problem for poor and working Californians. Nineteen percent (7 million) have no
health insurance, although coverage for children was
expanded under the state’s Healthy Families program,
established in 2001.
The Great divide
Geographic divisions complicate California’s economic
and ethnic diversity. In the past, the most pronounced
of these was between the northern and southern portions of the state. The San Francisco Bay Area tended to
be diverse, liberal, and, in elections, Democratic, while
Southern California was staunchly Republican and
much less diverse. However, with growth and greater
diversity, Los Angeles also began voting Democratic.
Today, the greatest division is between the coastal and
inland regions of the state (See Figure 18.3). Democrats
now outnumber Republicans in San Diego, for example,
and even notoriously conservative Orange County has
elected a Latina Democrat to Congress.
THE INLAND EMPIRE But even as the differences between northern and southern California fade,
the contrast between coastal and inland California
has increased.10 The state’s vast Central Valley has
led the way in population and job growth, with cities
from Sacramento to Fresno to Bakersfield gobbling up
farmland. The Inland Empire, from Riverside to San
Bernardino, has grown even more rapidly since the late
1990s. Although still sparsely populated, California’s
northern coast, Sierra Nevada, and southern desert
regions are also growing, while retaining their own
distinct identities. Water, agriculture, and the environment are major issues in all these areas. Except
for Sacramento, inland California is more conservative than the coastal region of the state. While coastal
California is still dominant, the impact of inland areas
on California politics increases with every election.
California’s People, Economy, and Politics
rom a history full of conflicting interests and turbulent
change, California has forged unique political institutions, including the ability of the electorate to make
policy and recall officeholders via direct democracy. The elements of today’s economic, demographic, and geographic
diversity vie with one another for political influence within
the framework they have inherited, sometimes trying to
change it. Just as the economic and demographic changes
of the past have shaped contemporary California, so today’s
changes are shaping the future.
1. As explained in this chapter, perhaps a million people moved
into California during the Great Depression of the 1930s, even
though California’s unemployment rate peaked at about 33
percent, distinctly higher than the national rate. Why do you
think these people came? What might they have heard about
California that would lead them to believe they could find a
better life here?
2. The makeup of California’s population has changed, and it will
continue to change in years to come. The relative size of the
non-Latino white population, no longer the majority, will continue to decline. The percentage of Latino and Asian American
citizens will grow. The African American and Native American
populations, however, are likely to make up about the same
share of the population as they do today. What political consequences are these changes likely to produce? What kinds of
services might a new electorate demand from California state
P a r t 6: C a l i f o r n i a P o l i t i C s a n d G o v e r n m e n t
t’s not hard to learn more about California’s rich history. All across the
state, citizens have organized historical societies to sponsor forums,
publications, and museums that tell the California tale. You can visit
some of these museums—there are probably several in your area. For
example, Kern County is the home of Bakersfield, a large city but not
one of the state’s very largest. Yet Kern County has at least fifteen historical societies and twenty-four museums. Among the most important
is the Kern County Museum, an outdoor facility with fifty-six exhibits
located on sixteen acres. Consider also Del Norte County. With fewer
than 30,000 inhabitants, it is among California’s least populous counties.
Nevertheless, its historical society helps support two museums. These
include the Battery Point Lighthouse, one of California’s more scenic
locations. You can visit the lighthouse only at low tide by walking across
a sandy beach and some rocks.
An online version of the California Constitution
can be found on the official Web site for California
legislative information. Go to
The California Historical Society has created an online
historical guide to over three hundred years of California history. You can learn more about key events,
personalities, and anecdotes from California’s past at
To learn more about the rich history of San Francisco,
visit the virtual museum of the City of San Francisco at This extensive multimedia Web
site can be searched by subject, year, biographies, or
you can view their major online exhibits to find text,
graphics and sounds.
The Demographic Research Unit of the California
Department of Finance is designated as the single
official source of demographic data for state planning
and budgeting. Go to
Visit the QuickFacts page of the U.S. Census Bureau’s
Web site for California to see demographic and business comparisons between California and the United
States at
Calisphere, the University of California’s free public
gateway to a world of primary sources, contains more
than 150,000 digitized items—including photographs,
documents, newspaper pages, political cartoons,
works of art, diaries, transcribed oral histories, advertising, and other unique cultural artifacts—that reveal
the diverse history and culture of California and its role
in national and world history. Go to www.calisphere.
Online resources for this chapter
©Stephen Coburn, 2009. Used under license from
This text’s Companion Web site, at, offers links to numerous
resources that you can use to learn more about the topics covered in this chapter.
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