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Barrales Will Need Eons to Change the GOP’s Face

Thursday, February 28th, 2013

The California Republican Party, which gathers this weekend in Sacramento to elect a new chairman, has something of a problem.

Party registration is down to about 31 29%. It’s in the hole for as much as $800,000. No Republican holds statewide office. Democrats control the Legislature. Women, people of color, gays and lesbians, urban professionals and young people have shown they have no use for the party and its candidates. And about one in three of the fastest-growing segment of the voting population – Latinos – tell pollsters they won’t even consider a Republican.

On one issue after another – choice, gay marriage, immigration, property taxes, gun control, to name a few – the state GOP is completely out of step with the mainstream views of Californians. They have no identifiable candidate for governor or U.S. Senate. And for decades, those controlling the California party have sought to push it further and further to the right, making it increasingly pure, white, isolated and more poisonous as an imprimatur for anyone seeking statewide office.

Other than that, everything is just fine.

Comes now Ruben Barrales, like Don Quixote, seeking to improve his party’s fortunes  by identifying, recruiting, training and electing more Latino Republicans to local, municipal, county and state offices. Good luck with that.

Barrales knows from first-hand experience what it’s like to be a raisin in the sun. The former San Mateo County supervisor – smart, handsome and savvy — set out to run for Treasurer in 1998 only to be bumped out of the race when Assembly Speaker Curt Pringle of Orange County decided he wanted to run for the open seat.

That was after Stu Spencer, the granddaddy of Republican wise men in California (having guided to success a guy named Ronald Reagan), had written a Nov. 26, 1997 memo he titled “Wake-up Call for GOP,” pleading for his party to support Barrales for Treasurer and arguing that the California GOP is “dramatically losing market share of the fastest growing segment of the electorate . . . The stakes are too high for us to act like political ostriches and ignore the challenges we face.”

Calbuzz re-documented this sad chapter in GOP history back in October 2011, describing how Barrales ran instead for Controller, against incumbent Democrat Kathleen Connell, and got creamed 61-33% — running behind Republican registration, which was 35% at the time.

Barrales went on to serve as Deputy Assistant to President George W. Bush, Director, Office of Intergovernmental Affairs in the White House and later CEO of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce. He recently stepped down from that job to become president and CEO of Elect Grow, a political action group dedicated to electing more Latino Republicans to political office, starting at the local level.

He’s done well, he’s a bright guy and he recognizes that changing the face of the Republican Party of California is a long-, long-, long-term project. Consider that when the Field Poll recently asked voters if they support creating “a program that would allow illegal immigrants who have been living in the U.S. for a number of years an opportunity to stay in this country and apply for citizenship if they have a job, learned English and paid back taxes,” 95% of Democrats, 92% of independents and – drum roll, please – 81% of Republicans agreed.

But where is the California GOP on this issue? Staunchly opposed to a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants – so much so, that in the 2010 Republican primary for governor, alleged “moderates” Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner outdid one another demonstrating how opposed they were to going soft on illegal immigrants.

Consider, for example, the message offered by David Miller of San Gabriel Valley, who’s running for chairman of the CRP.

“The California Republican Party does not have financial problems, it has a branding problem,” Miller argues. “. . .  there’s nothing wrong with our core Republican principles of limited government, constitutional rule of law, sound fiscal and monetary policy, personal freedom and individual responsibility.  We’re just doing a very poor job of communicating those principles by translating them into policies and legislation that resonate with voters.”

Actually, the California GOP has done an excellent job of communicating its principles. That’s the problem. Voters understand exactly what the Republican Party’s agenda is, which is why they’re spiraling toward irrelevancy.

But altering the GOP’s platform, Barrales says, is not on Grow Elect’s agenda. Rather, he argues, as the composition of the party changes, reflecting the communities from which officials are elected – that is, increasingly filled with Latino voters – the policies supported by the state party will also change. Over time. Lots of time. Eons, we would argue.

“Hopefully we’re recruiting candidates who are reflective of their communities, so hopefully they’re addressing issues of importance to their communities,” Barrales told Calbuzz. “Grow Elect is agnostic (on the issue of pathway to citizenship). If you get more Latinos who are Republican officeholders, in a way you’ll change he party – they’ll be setting the agenda for the party. It’s a long range effort – I want to change the face of the people running the Republican Party and the people who are elected officials.”

Since his own experience 15 years ago, he said, “In some ways its gotten worse. It’s a long term effort – I have no illusions about an election cycle or two. We’re talking about identifying a new generation of leaders in California.”

His formula is simple: “If you want more Latinos to support the Republican Party, you have to get more Latinos in the Republican Party.”

But this is a chicken-and-egg thing, we suspect. How do you attract Latinos to a party that tells them their mothers and fathers, sisters, brothers, cousins and neighbors have no place here – or if they do, the conditions are so onerous that no one wants even to try to play the game?

It doesn’t help that about 74% of the start-up funding for Grow Elect came from Charles Munger Jr., the Palo Alto jillionaire who last year laundered donated $28,987,452 through Joel Fox’s Small Business Action Committee to oppose Jerry Brown’s budget-saving Proposition 30 and oppose the anti-union Proposition 32.

Don’t look for the new GOP Chairman, Jim Brulte, to offer much guidance on his issue. He’s doing everything he can to avoid having to express opinions about issues like a pathway to citizenship.

But his party – and many of the people in leadership positions at the county and regional level – has some very strong stands on this issue and others that repel the very people guys like Ruben Barrales hope to attract. It’s a good thing Barrales has no illusions about “an election cycle or two.”

Op Ed: Republicans Scrambling on Gay Marriage

Thursday, February 28th, 2013

By Hank Plante
Special to Calbuzz

If there’s any doubt that the tide has turned in favor of gay rights, and especially gay marriage, look no further than the list of 80 prominent Republicans who this week submitted a legal brief  to the Supreme Court endorsing same-sex marriage.

Heads turned in the Coachella Valley when among those signers was our own former Congresswoman Mary Bono Mack.

The reaction was swift on social media networks, from thanking her for her support to the expected, “Where was she for the 14 years she was in Congress?”

Indeed, her refusal to take a position on marriage equality became a growing issue in her political races, culminating last fall when she became testy during a TV debate when pressed on the subject by Desert Sun political reporter Erica Felci.

Bono Mack’s stunning loss to Dr. Raul Ruiz must be traced in part to her silence on the subject, particularly in light of the Valley’s changing demographics.

But times change, and as Republicans re-invent themselves for the 21st Century, they know their positions have alienated Latinos, women and gays.

For many, the Republican conversion is too little too late, but no political consultant would blame them for trying.

How else to explain Meg Whitman’s name also being on the list of gay marriage supporters?

During her campaign for governor in 2010, I asked her on-camera whether her opposition to gay marriage was, “A slap in the face to millions of LGBT Californians?”

She blanched visibly, looked embarrassed and stumbled through a half-hearted explanation of why she felt marriage was between one man and one woman.  I could almost see her wistfully missing the $160 million dollars she was about to blow on the campaign.

The fact is most Republican leaders have always had gay and lesbian friends, from Ronald Reagan and Rock Hudson, to Bono Mack and her transgender stepson, Chas Bono.  But many of them pretended to be more anti-gay than they were as they pitched their policies to a narrow base.

Trouble is, that base has now changed.

Polls at the national level show a clear majority of Americans now favor gay rights and same-sex marriage.  And even a poll of young Evangelicals, done in 2011 by the Public Religion Research institute, shows nearly half of them supporting gay marriage (compared to only 12 percent support among Evangelicals over 65).

We live in an age where the Marriott Corporation, founded by staunchly Republican Mormons, has joined the legal fight against DOMA, the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act, with Chairman Bill Marriott telling Business Insider, “We have to take care of our people, regardless of their sexual orientation or anything else.”

No wonder Conservative leader Newt Gingrich told an interviewer, “Gay marriage will be legal.  Period.”

That’s the message that Republicans have now received, as they scramble is on to be on the right side of history.

Hank Plante, of Palm Springs, is an Emmy and Peabody-winning journalist who has spent three decades covering California issues for the CBS TV stations in San Francisco and Los Angeles. He is the Calbuzz Palm Springs Bureau Chief. This piece ran originally in the Palm Springs Desert Sun.

 

For an update on Californians’  attitudes about gay marriage — now 2-to-1 in favor — see the Field Poll released today.