Book Review on California Politics and Government


This book review focuses on Gerston, Larry, and Christensen’s book, California Politics and Government: A Practical Approach. In order to comprehensively and critically analyze the book, the study is organized in a systematic approach. It is divided into three main sections – the summary of the book (section one), other authors’ opinions (section two), and my position in the final section.


In the book, the authors extensively study the various aspects that contribute to the structure of the political design and arrangement in California. California, they note, is not only among the wealthiest States in the country, but it also has a very complex sociopolitical structure that influences the entire nation[1]. In their study, Gerston, Larry, and Christensen give an explicit and thorough analysis of the nation beginning with historical background, determinants of the structure, and the development details[2]. With special emphasis on the influence of law and population trends in the nation, the writers successfully examine the relationship between major factors affecting the politics of California. Among the issues currently affecting the political issues in the State today are amendments to legal provisions to fit the demands of the new generation of politicians.

Throughout America’s political history, California State has stood out as unique in its complex political and legal structures. This book extensively traces the development of these structures from early history to date[3]. In the early 19th Century, for instance, there was a high rate of immigration into the State, especially during the Gold rush[4]. The irrepressible streaming in of immigrants attracted people from as far as Spain and China in large numbers. Today, the population is composed of people of various races and nationalities. The State is home to millions of people who practice a wide variety of economic activities[5].

The authors do not neglect the early facts about occupation and administrative authority of the nation. Previously colonized by the Spaniards, the State experienced a hand-over to the United States government, which took over jurisdiction and complete control of the nation with its vast resources and rich agricultural land[6]. The vast State also boasts of an extremely useful coast line both for business, infrastructure, and tourism. Today, the United States government accrues most of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) from this State[7].

The book examines the uniqueness in the State’s constitution which, through time, has undergone more amendments than the Federal government’s constitution[8]. These changes prove the fact that the political system is mature and democratic. The possibility of adapting to changing times and new demands of the States in accordance to the people’s wishes and welfare with the intention of improving their living standards makes the structures exemplary and desirable. Today the State’s constitution is rich and detailed to cater for all possibilities and upcoming issues. It leads other States by providing new rules that are enacted directly in other States’ constitutional documents[9].

Since the end of the 19th Century, there has been a great level of development and advancement in agriculture and technology. The State acquired an unmatched reputation in successful agricultural performance in both the United States and Mexico[10]. Through time, the sector has undergone not only a great step in development but also a high rate of improvement. Considering the importance of the sector to the State’s economy over time, there is justifiable cause and reason to adjust and advance agricultural technology to maximize performance, and consequently lead the nation in abundance of food products[11]. Agriculture has, over time, governed the economy of California as it is a reliable economic activity. Food produce furnishes a consistent and reliable market especially due to the fact that the American population (naturally) keeps growing[12].

The Californian economy, the book reveals, survived the worst scenarios in history such as the Great depression of the 1920s, both World Wars, as well as the cold war. The wars, for instance, directly affected the finances of the State. The writers emphasize the impact of the Cold war, especially, and World War II on the development of California’s economy. Through the development of military technology industries, the State was able to employ thousands of citizens and consequently improve the living standards of their entire State. The fact that the arsenal industries still run today means that more people have and are still benefiting from the impact of the early 20th century wars.

National issues are also highlighted and magnified in California than in any other State. For instance, political activism and differences are the subject of much concern and interest[13]. The local politics in California elate and magnify the political battles between national parties (Republicans and Democrats)[14]. Among the reasons that make politics elated in the State is the fact that there is a high rate of population increase in the State. The State has had, in fact, the highest rate of population growth in the U.S for several decades. This increase influences the leadership positions and consequently the legal structures through the power of the vote[15].

The policy-making process, the authors assert, has been affected by the politicians in their (Republican-Democrat) battles for authority and protecting the freedom of the American public. The stand-offs between members of these two parties is evident in every aspect and detail in the law-making process. These disagreements drag the law-making process, making it last longer than a normal process[16]. The book goes on to reveal that the national government structures are available to regulate and contain the political issues and prevent them from ruining the stability of the State. These structures have, so far, been effective in preventing havoc and destruction in the reliable legal system, despite the delays and slow processes[17]. The strained relationship between the legislative institutions and other systems available in the State creates an impression of a failing authority in California. The authors assert that the inability of the State to control its political battles affecting their legal system is evidence that the State’s authority may be failing[18]. They, however, appreciate California’s position as the most unique and most complex State in America.


The book has attracted both criticism and support from other authors. These authors too, conducted extensive research and based their arguments towards this book on historical facts, trends, and the reality of the situation in California. With a wider range of aspects that contribute to the shaping and development of the Californian political and legal structure, these authors carefully examine the credibility of Gerston and Christensen’s thoughts in their book. In arguing their case, the authors commonly agree on the truth that the book accurately focuses on the political activity and its relationship to the legal system over a long period in history to determine the current situation. A thorough consideration of the historical background is crucial in determining the trend and predicting the future and destiny of the nation and its inhabitants[19]. The facts about California’s past (since its formation and adoption by the United States government) have shaped the present and, consequently, the current situation could indicate the future condition of both the social and economic standards of the State. It is logical to collect the issues and events in the State from the as a utility in consideration and conclusions of the political State of the State[20].The legal structures and political conditions depend on the history of population growth in any location. In the book, the authors explicitly examine the political history of disagreements and conflicts, especially the Republican versus the Democrats in almost all issues of legality in the law-making process[21]. These historical stand-offs have, over-time, shaped the political situation and the attitude of the public towards the politicians. The public are mostly disillusioned and disappointed by the politicians’ sinister motives in delaying useful laws from implementation due to their differences and hatred towards the opposing parties[22].  According to Bart (P.10), the people are filled with wrath and express disgust and mistrust in their politicians, especially concerning the major decisions about the appropriate laws for the Californian public.With the taking up of the State by the U.S government after the Spanish government failed to take charge of the entire State even after it participated in its geographical definition, California has grown and advanced consistently into a renowned State worldwide[23]. The population in California is at an all time high too (compared to other States as well as countries in the North and South American continents). The high and ever growing Californian population creates a challenging issue for the authorities to administer available resources effectively[24]. The two authors base their case on the diversity of the beginning of the Californian public as well as the ever rising population as some of the issues hindering the efficiency of governance. It is this population that determines the political organization through vote in accordance to popular interests and concerns. This population naturally consists of a vast variety of immigrants through a history that began in the 19th century[25]. The native Californians consist of Indians. The Japanese and Chinese were later among the first immigrants to arrive with their interests in gold and other business activities[26]. Since then, visitors from all around the world have settled in the coveted land of California. Today, more people from both the rest of America and other countries continue to move into the State and settle consequently increasing the population[27]. These huge numbers and the history of immigration are not a major determinant to the legal and political structure of the State.The wealth of the State and the unstable, ever-present wrangles and battles between politicians led the two authors to conclude that the State is unique especially in its unruly habits[28]. They attribute the political interference to legal issues to the diversity and ever-rising population of the State over the years. With special emphasis to the Gold rush that led to the highest number of immigrants flocking into the country, the second World War and the Cold war that settled many families through providence of employment opportunities the two authors reveal the development of the State’s political condition[29].Rather than address the current issues such as the political issues and the law-making process in detail, the authors focus on the historical events and their implications to the current situation[30]. They also avoid the national government influence in shaping the political structure of the State[31]. The authors evade issues outside of the history of California in determining today’s system of politics and the challenges it causes to the law-making process. Despite their concentration historical facts, the authors give accurate and reliable information backed by facts. Their assertions and conclusions are based on the historical knowledge[32]. Their assertions reveal the close and inseparable connection between law-making and politics in California. In this State, law depends on politics despite the urgency or the vitality of the issues stipulated in the proposed draft of the law[33]. The relationship ensures that politicians incorporate their party beliefs and stand-offs before finally agreeing on the appropriate law. This dependence on the politicians’ selfish views hinders the efficiency in the law-making process, and the public interest in the matter is no longer of essence[34].The increased reliance on politics in the law-making process has ensured that the two crucial aspects of the State are inseparable. For instance the high rate of amendments (more than the federal government’s constitution) has ensured that the political system is effectively connected to the legal system[35]. There have been at least twenty changes to the Californian constitution. The recalling of Gray Davis as governor shocked the entire country in 2002. What is more interesting than the recalling is that the action was based on the views of the public (the electorate) about his performance[36]. This action not only amazed the rest of America but also proved the fact that California had come to maturity on issues concerning democracy in governance. There were no limits the political system failed to explore in serving the public.SECTION 3: MY POSITIONGerston and Christensen seek to reveal the fact that California’s legal system has developed through time. The contributing factors to the current condition of high levels of democracy and freedom lie in the rich history of the State rather than entirely the objectives or actions of today’s authorities.Like other States, California’s government defines the State budget, the amendments, elections of judges and politicians. These aspects define their central points of focus in their effort to reveal the structure of both political and legal systems. The authors explicitly use the knowledge of available historical facts to define California’s politics and legal issues. They have backed up their assertions with appropriate and convincing evidence. This evidence is attributed to an extensive research on the history of the economic and social environment in California.The authors succeed in not only portraying the connection between politics and law but also revealing the development of the system since the 19th century. The two powerful aspects of governance are so interconnected that they are dependent on each other. They consider the basic tenets contributing to the current structure vividly and explicitly. This information gives a convincing explanation to the level of maturity exhibited by the State’s electorate and leadership.The book vividly exhibits their opposition towards the uniqueness of the State. They consider it unruly and indifferent. This is a bias and harsh judgment toward the Californian public considering their diversity and increasingly population growth that is not controllable[37]. The authors’ extensive research provides a wide range of information that is factual and reliable in determining the future of the State. They focus on the rich history that, for instance, led to the high population of immigrants. They prove, by history, that California’s State of uniqueness and unruliness is attributed to the rich immigration history[38]. This convincing and evident argument is dependable and, therefore, authenticates the information in the book.The authors do not conclude and make judgment on the unruly attitude evident in California. Instead, they pose it as an open point of discussion and debate. While there is proof of unruliness, the causes are justifiable. These causes contributing to the nature of the Californians shift the blame from the people to their heritage and origin stipulated clearly in history[39]. They are victims of circumstances and blaming them is not fair. The authors’ choice to leave the discussion without a definite conclusion is wise since there is no sufficient proof to conclude the claim that only California is unruly[40].The authors’ assertions that California State is a failed one may be reasonable yet not factual. The fact that the State displays a high level of democracy and freedom in contrast to the rest of the States a positive trait that other States should seek to copy and enact. This condition is a show of maturity rather than failure. The authors seem to fear the fact that the consistent trend in the State could lead to dishonor and disregard to authorities available in the State. The impact of the State succumbing to failure of authoritative action will have a great negative impact on the United States government and the country as a whole because of the huge stake the State offers. It has the 8th and contributes to the national economy to a large extent. However, the government has the resources and power to control and correct any failed judicial system, for example, through political influence in any State.The writers also look at the conflicts arising from struggles between diverse races inhabiting the State. The power struggles have existed since the late 19th century after the creation of the State.                                                      ConclusionThe massive Californian electorate has gradually risen and matured in their demand for freedom and democracy by using their voice and activism to control their leadership. Their political history has influenced both the leadership and the public through the unruliness they exhibit today. The authors’ assertions are justifiable since they are based on facts. The issues facing the State can all be ascribed to the historical development that began in the 19th century with the entrance of immigrants, especially from the east (China and Japan). This book is therefore useful in the study of the current condition of the State’s political and lawful structure.


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[4]    Alvarez, Robert R. Familia: migration and adaptation in Baja and Alta California, 1800-1975. Berkeley: University of California Press. 1987

[5]   Korey,  John L. California government. Boston, Mass: Wadsworth Cengage Learning. 2009

[6]   Cherny, Robert W., Mary Ann Irwin, and Ann M. Wilson. 2011. California Women and Politics from the Gold Rush to the Great Depression. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

[7]    Thomas Grant, the Recognition of States: Law and Practice in Debate and Evolution (New York: Greenwood Publishing Group, 1999), 23.

[8]   Murch, Donna Jean. 2010. Living for the city migration, education, and the rise of the Black Panther Party in Oakland, California. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

[9]    Paul Harris, “Will California become America’s first failed State?” The Guardian, October 4, 2009.

[10] McCoy, Candace. 1993. Politics and plea bargaining: victims’ rights in California. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

[11]  Epstein, Steven. 1996. Impure science AIDS, activism, and the politics of knowledge. Berkeley: University of California Press.

[12]  Shryock, Andrew,  Daniel Lord Smail, and Timothy K. Earle. 2011. Deep history the architecture of past and present. Berkeley: University of California Press.

[13]  Allay, Gibson, Interpreting the founding: guide to the enduring debates over the origins and foundations of the American republic (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2006), 49.

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[15]  The Ottawa Citizen, “Perverse Politics in California,” The Ottawa Citizen, August 12, 2003.

[16] Whittington, Keith E., R.  Daniel Kelemen, and Gregory A. Caldeira. 2008. The Oxford Handbook of Law and Politics. Oxford: OUP Oxford.

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[20]  Meyer, Michael J., Brian E. Railsback, and Railsback-Meyer. 2006. A John Steinbeck encyclopedia. Westport, Conn. [u.a.]: Greenwood Press.

[21]  Schneider Bart, “The Untold History of California.”Newsday Combined Editions, August 10, 1997: 10.

[22] Bruce Cain, Jack Ciltrin & Vara wong. Ethnic Context, Race Relations, and California Politics 2000.

[23]  Carey McWilliams, California, the Great Exception (New York: Current Books, 1949), 5.

[24]  Elder Robert. “The California Gold Rush,” New York Times Upfront, January 28, 2013, 16.

[25] Tom Sitton and William Deverell, eds., Metropolis in the making: Los Angeles in the 1920s (London: University of California Press, 2001), 2.

[26] Allay, Gibson, Interpreting the founding: guide to the enduring debates over the origins and foundations of the American republic (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 200

[27] Candace, McCoy, Politics and Plea Bargaining: Victims’ Rights in California (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993), 113.

[28]  Paul Harris, “Will California become America’s first failed State?” The Guardian, October 4, 2009.

[29] Wheaton Whitney, “Political History of California, 1887-1898” (PhD diss., University of California, 1924): 1.

[30]  Candace, McCoy, Politics and Plea Bargaining: Victims’ Rights in California (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993), 113.

[31]  Schneider Bart, “The Untold History of California.”Newsday Combined Editions, August 10, 1997: 10.

[32] Tom Tyler, Why People Obey the Law (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006), 47.

[33]  “History of California,” The New York Times, October13, 1929

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[35]  The Ottawa Citizen, “Perverse Politics in California,” The Ottawa Citizen, August 12, 2003.

[36] Deverell, William Francis, and David Igler. 2008. A companion to California history. Chichester, U.K.: Wiley-Blackwell.

[37] Conklin, William E. 2001. The invisible origins of legal positivism: a re-reading of a tradition. Dordrecht: Kluwer academic.

38  Dellapenna, Joseph W., and Joyeeta Gupta. 2008. The evolution of the law and politics of water. Dordrecht: Springer.

[39] Burns, John F., and Richard J. Orsi. 2003. Taming the elephant politics, government, and law in pioneer California. Berkeley: University of California Press.

[40] Brooks, Ann, and Ruth Simpson$aut$. 2013. Emotions in transmigration transformation, movement and identity. Basingstoke [etc.]: Palgrave Macmillan.