Why are California Republicans proud to be irrelevant?
"Some Californians have an appetite for change and for Reagan’s big tent — so long as the focus is on making the state function better, not embracing a Republican agenda on its way to irrelevance."
By: The San Diego Union-Tribune Editorial Board
California is in an odd place politically. In part because of its largely Democratic elected leaders’ failings, housing costs are so extreme that homelessness has exploded and scores of middle-class families — not just poor people — live paycheck-to-paycheck. A state home to many of the world’s richest companies and individuals has the highest effective poverty rate in the U.S. And with public education, some individual schools and districts enjoy strong reputations, but statewide test scores generally put California well behind liberal states (Massachusetts and New Jersey) and conservative states (Florida and Texas) that have all embraced reforms. In a normal state facing such circumstances, the dominant political party would be on its heels.
But not here. The same California GOP that produced Presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan is now content to be a minority party. Its only statewide wins in the 21st century came when it ran intriguing moderates — movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger and tech tycoon Steve Poizner — against unpopular Democrats. But instead of learning from history, this weekend’s state GOP convention attendees in San Diego provided a fresh reminder of how the party faithful prefer their traditional greatest hits — such as hard lines on taxes and immigration and skepticism about climate change — to trying to attract a majority of voters.
The upshot could be a November election that both underscores California Republicans’ weakness and adds to it. Polls show it is a real possibility no Republican will advance as one of the two final candidates in both the governor’s and U.S. Senate races in November’s general election. Republican turnout could actually be depressed if neither Rancho Santa Fe businessman John Cox nor Huntington Beach Assemblyman Travis Allen finishes second in the gubernatorial primary — which looks more likely after a weekend in which neither could obtain the party’s official endorsement. If that happens, it would increase the chances the GOP could lose seven of the 14 California House seats it now controls — making it possible San Francisco Democrat Nancy Pelosi would get an encore as speaker.
If this happens, California Republicans will be forced into some soul-searching. Their self-inflicted wounds may please those who see many Republicans as divisive and disastrously wrong about global warming and other issues, but it shouldn’t please Californians in general. It’s unhealthy for California to be so dominated by one party — especially when that party is too complacent about education, over-regulation, the bullet-train boondoggle, costly public-employee pension programs and more.
This complacence invites criticism of Democrats. But the grim twist for Republicans is they may not benefit from it. This year, decline-to-state voters are on the brink of outnumbering registered GOP voters, with both having about 25 percent of total registration. That’s a lot of voters who reject both parties but would vote for appealing candidates.
So pay attention to Poizner, who is seeking a second term as insurance commissioner while running as an independent. And look to Republicans like Schwarzenegger, former Assembly GOP leader Chad Mayes and Oceanside Assemblyman and congressional candidate Rocky Chavez, who are launching an organization called New Way California in favor of moderate positions on issues like the environment. Some Californians have an appetite for change and for Reagan’s big tent — so long as the focus is on making the state function better, not embracing a Republican agenda on its way to irrelevance. If, as the cliché says, insanity is repeating yourself and expecting different results, the state GOP is ready to be fitted for a straitjacket.