Game Changers: Twelve Elections That Transformed California

Winner of the 2014 California Historical Society Book Award

Silver Medal, 2017 Independent Publishers Book Award (West-Pacific—Best Regional Nonfiction)

Regional Nonfiction Finalist, Next Generation Indie Book Awards

The latest CHS Book Award winner examines California’s history through the prism of twelve elections that forever changed the state. Drawing from a wealth of primary sources, including new interviews conducted by the authors, each chapter explores one election (Leland Stanford’s gubernatorial race, the initiative that mandated term limits, and the Los Angeles Aqueduct Bond Measure, to name a few), revealing the forces behind the choices made at the polls and the consequences that carry over to this day. The authors offer thought-provoking interpretation rooted in decades of experience in journalism, public-policy analysis, and political consulting at the state Capitol. Through their perspectives we better understand the intricate game played in Sacramento by contenders such as the bespectacled and brilliant progressive reformer Hiram Johnson, iconoclastic muckraker-turned-candidate Upton Sinclair, and Proposition 13 author Howard Jarvis, with his zealous oratory and machete approach to tax reform. By focusing on elections, the authors show that Californians’ voices are as powerful and transformative as the tectonic forces beneath us.

Published in collaboration with the California Historical Society


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“Highly entertaining and scrupulously researched.”—Ed Goldman, Sacramento Business Journal


“The book is full of characters that a fiction writer would be envious of creating, tales of machinations and anecdotes that liven the storytelling. Extensive research and interviews with participants involved in the more modern elections enrich the telling.”—Fox&Hounds


“A well-researched and thoroughly engaging source for understanding Sacramento’s continuing gridlock, the ballot initiative system, and (sadly) the negative political campaigns still with us.”—Jeff Harter, Blue Heron


“This simply is an excellent book—an excellent idea, excellently executed. It’s compelling, easy reading without airs, telling the pertinent political stories that shaped California.”—George Skelton, political columnist for the Los Angeles Times


“A fascinating account of California’s political history as viewed through the prism of critical elections from the middle of the nineteenth century to the present.…Events and an array of interesting characters spring to life in these pages.”—Jack Citrin, professor of political science and director of the Institute of Governmental Studies, University of California, Berkeley


“A compelling analysis of the effect of voting and voters on framing the good, the bad, and the ugly of governance in the Golden State.”—Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, professor of the practice of public policy communication, University of Southern California


“Here we get gripping insider portraits of elections that not only served as high political drama, but also changed the historical trajectory of America’s most dynamic state.”—Ethan Rarick, author of California Rising: The Life and Times of Pat Brown

About the Authors

Steve Swatt is a veteran political analyst and public affairs executive. He is a former award-winning political reporter with twenty-five years of journalism experience with The San Francisco Examiner, United Press International in Los Angeles, and KCRA-TV (NBC) in Sacramento. He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley.
Susie Swatt is a member of the National Advisory Council of the Institute of Governmental Studies at UC Berkeley. She spent nearly forty years as a key staff member in the California Legislature. As a special assistant for the Fair Political Practices Commission, she researched and authored a study that won a national award for “investigative work in the public interest.”
Jeff Raimundo recently completed twenty-five years as a political and public relations consultant based in Sacramento. Previously, he enjoyed a twenty-year career as a newspaper reporter and editor with The Sacramento Bee and McClatchy Company newspapers in Sacramento and Washington, DC.
Rebecca LaVally, Ph.D., teaches rhetorical criticism and persuasion at California State University, Sacramento. She is a former editor of the California Senate’s public-policy research office and former Sacramento bureau chief for United Press International and Gannett News Service.