Memo to CA GOP: Time to Do Something Different


After watching the California Republican Party implode in the 2010 election – spectacularly in the cases of Meg Whitman’s campaign for governor and Carly Fiorina’s run for U.S. Senate – Calbuzz has some unsolicited advice for the state’s Grand Old Party.

Just as Democrats in Washington are being urged to re-calibrate after the spanking their party got in some parts of the country, Republicans in California need to do a little re-calibrating themselves.

Before we offer our pearls of wisdom, however, let’s dispense of the howling response we expect from some of our friends in the right-wing peanut gallery (we name no names, Flash) who will surely hurl the “liberals” canard at Calbuzz and say we just want the Republicans to become Democrats.

Not true. We don’t want Republicans to become Democrats — we want Republicans to become relevant.

So that there is a vigorous contest of ideas in California politics. Right now, Republicans are so trapped in their ideological hall of mirrors that they have become a distorted caricature of themselves. They can thump their chests and win big attaboys at the California Republican Assembly convention. But they utterly  fail to reflect the impulses of the vast majority of California voters who tend to be fiscally conservative and socially moderate.

Republicans believe in smaller government, lower taxes, reduced regulation, economic growth, individual freedom and law and order, to name a few GOP values.

They should continue to stand and fight for all of those. But they need to build all that into a platform that begins with a realistic growth agenda. Investments in roads, bridges, dams and/or levees, water projects, schools and universities, redevelopment projects, ports – all these things and more – are wholly consistent with their philosophical world view. Their fixation on opposing everything the Democrats propose is hurting them more than it is helping them.

Republicans could become leading advocates of an economic rebound strategy that relies on Silicon Valley innovation, green jobs, high-tech research and development. They could integrate this with increased exports for a growing agricultural sector and a healthy and expanding service economy.

They don’t have to continually serve the interests of the wealthiest 2% of California families – they can focus of the struggling middle class. And they need to remember that California is not Kentucky or Alaska or any other state where the so-called “tea party” is a big deal. In California, tea party ideology is a non-starter.

It’s time for leaders of the California Republican Party to rethink their general strategy and the specifics of their agenda. Here’s where they should start:

1.  Change your position on a “path to citizenship.” You can and should strongly favor securing the borders against illegal immigration. That’s a matter of defending our sovereignty and integrity as a nation.

The political reason you fear changing on citizenship is that you’re afraid that if all those illegal Mexicans and other Latinos become U.S. citizens, they will bolster the Democratic Party. And that’s certainly a valid fear of a potential outcome.

But it needn’t be that way.

Just as the Republican Party was the Northern standard-bearer for the abolition of slavery in the 1850s and 1860s, so could the California Republican Party become the advocate for citizenship for honest working men and women who have come to the U.S. to make better lives for themselves and their families.

Nine in 10 Latinos in California — and a healthy majority of independent voters — support a path to citizenship for people who have been working here illegally for two years or more. Get on their side. Make them your allies.

You know who will be unhappy? Big labor, pro-choice forces and culturally liberal Democrats who want to keep Latino voters in their corner. Latino Catholic culture is quite conservative on family issues. You don’t have to moderate on too many of these. But you drive Latinos away with your anti-immigrant policies and rhetoric. Your current policy just panders to the politics of resentment and makes you look bad. Time to move on.

2. Get on board with green jobs and environmental conservation. By arguing that people must pick either environment or economic development, you’re creating a false choice. And voters know it.

Plenty of Republicans – from the late David Packard to George Schultz – have proved that you can be a rock-ribbed Republican and also in favor of preserving and enhancing the environment. Of course environmentalism has to be balanced against other competing interests – like healthy agriculture, water supplies to cities and reasonable, controlled growth in and around urban areas.

But you have made fighting environmental regulation a cause. Your political calculation is that the business forces in your camp cannot tolerate stepped-up regulation and enforcement. But that’s old-school thinking. Only retrograde – and politically poisonous – corporations are afraid of the New Environmental World Order. You should make this part of some sort of 21st Century capitalism project, or something. Don’t let old school enviros control this vote rich sector.

3.  Develop your bench. Start grooming young, bright, articulate Republicans in cities, counties, Assembly districts and elsewhere.

Send them off to advanced management training at Harvard or Stanford. Introduce them to business leaders, venture capitalists, university presidents, foundation chiefs, leading journalists and party funders. Get them involved in key issues and causes.

Teach them about practical politics and polling and other insider skills as well. Train them in how to talk to reporters. Help them learn to think on their feet, to answer questions without betraying their ignorance and how to talk with ordinary people without sounding like they’re preaching or talking just from a list of talking points. Do what big-time college athletic programs do – recruit district by district.

4.  Reconsider your stance on abortion. There’s got to be a way to move to the center on this question where you support a woman’s right to choose in line with Roe vs Wade without endorsing or even supporting abortion.

Don’t give up your commitment to the idea that abortion is a moral choice. But recognize that it’s a moral choice that individuals have to make – not one that can be legislatively controlled.

You can be in favor of life and in favor of reducing the number of abortions. Be for, not against, family planning, like Barry Goldwater was. In a sense, become libertarian on the issue. You may never get the endorsement of the most ardent pro-choice groups, but you can neutralize the power of the issue. And if you can recruit pro-choice Republicans, all the better.

Your goal should be to build a coalition based on the overarching goal of reducing the number of abortions, but without all the wasted breath on  abstinence and all the hysterical opposition to teen sex education.

5. Sound sensible, not strident. The problem with the tea party rhetoric that some of you find so attractive is that it sounds like the ravings of a crazy old uncle who really ought to be locked in the attic.

The vast majority of California voters are moderate, independent-minded, pragmatic people. They don’t much care if an idea comes from a Democrat or a Republican. They just want it to make sense.

They’re not against government; they just want government to work on their behalf. They’re not opposed to all taxes; they’re opposed to taxes that seem unfair, onerous or overly broad. They want to control the borders but they also want to be fair to people who have worked hard to make a living, no matter where they come from.

They’re not pro-abortion but they want women and their doctors — not Assembly members and state senators — to make choices about the life and death of fetuses. California voters are tired of people running for office who sound like they think they know everything and whose answers are purely ideological.

You need to have a hard head. But you also need to demonstrate a soft heart. And maybe a touch of humility.

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There are 20 comments for this post

  1. avatar gdewar says:

    as an independent contractor who resents many of the burdensome rules and regulations and problems caused by my lowly status, I’ve often said that I’d love to vote for a party that’s pro economic growth, would get the government off my back, and would stand for the kinds of things that built this state up. As soon as such a party is started, I’d be happy to support its candidates. So far, neither one fits the bill.

  2. avatar hcat says:

    Actually, given the social conservatism of the growing Latino population, there is no need to validate Roe vs Wade, though we have to consider constructive alternatives like adoption or marriage, or preventative ones like abstinence or condoms ( which should not be handed out free by adults to adolescents, but otherwise are a lesser evil) rather than simply be “against” things. We don’t have to be pro choice, just be prepared to live with being stuck with “choice” for a while. The actual electorate is becoming socially conservative and economically moderately liberal, and a party that takes that stance us the party of the future.

  3. avatar hclark says:

    By now all the GOP campaign carpetbaggers are probably back where they reside so maybe the local ones can get behind your advice. However, I really don’t think that Dana, Darrell, and Dan want to even think about supporting a Tom Campbell sort. So I forgive you for speaking sense to those who cannot hear.

  4. avatar tonyseton says:

    Good piece. I was a Democrat, but have been DtS for many years. I’m still looking for a party that represents my goals and beliefs, that puts state and nation ahead of re-election. I might suggest that Republicans think about true conservative principles…like no foreign wars, conservation, balanced budgets, personal responsibility, and civil discourse.

  5. avatar smoker1 says:

    The CRP is a collection of bullies. The bulk of their success is based on demonization of someone (welfare queens, illegal aliens, criminals) and then trying to figure out how much they can shrink the constitution to attack the demons.

    Bullies don’t stop being bullies. The future is not the CA GOP but rather a more robust and organized independent movement. If Meg Whitman had run as an independent without having to worry about retaining the right wing vote, she might have pulled it off. Schwarzenegger could never have won a GOP primary, but essentially ran and ruled as an independent. The problem is that as bad as the GOP development of young candidates is, there is no development of independent candidates. There is no structure or pathway to office–just individual initiative. Its going to take some time, but this is the future.

  6. avatar Bob Mulholland says:

    Memo to Ca Republicans- don’t listen to any of this Calbuzz advice. Stick to your principles of being anti Choice; anti immigrant; anti middle class; anti public education; anti environment and pro war without any plans to “win” or pay for. Democrats need an alternative political party and Ca Republicans fit that role perfectly.

  7. avatar Hap Hazard says:

    I am not a republican, so I don’t give them advice. I believe however that if Poizner would have been the nominee, that he would have done better than Whitman because voters in the conservative parts of the state would have been highly motivated to vote for him, and his margin of ‘victory’ in those regions would have better offset the democratic votes in the urban areas going to Brown..

  8. avatar vickiesque says:

    Republican politcians might also recognize that they too are “state workers,” albeit highly obstructive and ineffective ones. If they would stop demonizing the people who are trying to serve the state, they might get more support from that quarter.

  9. avatar tegrat says:

    “controlling” the border is a lost cause not unlike the occupations in Afghanistan and Iraq (witness the billion dollar Boeing disaster). What needs to be controlled are the employers who hire undocumented workers knowingly, or implement some sort of rational working permit program. I am not anti-immigrant, in fact, my preference would be for an open border. In fact, my father worked for many years in Mexico during my youth and was welcomed there along with the rest of my family. Unfortunately the bigotry of this country would never allow for that.

  10. avatar Ernie Konnyu says:

    The Republican Party, as the Demos, do not and can not dictate the kind of moderate liberal polices you prescribe to their Party’s candidates. So your Party Rx is out.

    The Reeps, however, will become relevant again when the Unions push the Demos too far to the left and the voters lose faith in them. In other words when and if Jerry and Company self-immolate, the voters will turn to the R’s for relief. True! That will take years as the old fox, JB, won’t screw up as badly or easily as did idealogue twisted Obama with his trillions of maddening deficits.

    • avatar sfrisch says:

      The good news is I don’t think Brown will self immolate. Pragmatism seems to be making quite a come back, and the pragmatic thing to do now would be to focus on jobs, economic recovery, and re-building California’s infrastructure.

  11. avatar GeoHagop says:

    How about out-democrating the Democrats? The R’s could stimulate their libertarian streak by advocating for legalizing It. Then going for the true capitalist model of competition by taking the monopoly exemption away from health insurance providers. Then doing the Christian thing with “thou shalt not kill,” thereby advocating the end of military adventurism. Advocate for ending the income tax on labor: it’s unconstitutional. Hell, do those things and *I’ll* become a Republican.

  12. avatar Her Honor says:

    Of all the items in this “prescription” for the GOP, the one that resonates with me is “sound sensible, not strident.” Civil discourse works, but only if we engage in it. Labels like liberal, conservative, right wing, left wing, tea party, etc. simply serve to close the ears and minds of anyone who disagrees with what they think that label connotes. Compromise should not be considered a sin. Collaboration is good, not evil. And respecting the values and opinions of others, even if you disagree with them, will lead us closer to a shared vision of how to solve California’s problems.

  13. avatar apache1969 says:

    A lot of young voters already antiGOP are waiting to cast votes. The CA GOP has no future We need independent choices who share californians goals. We can’t destroy our state in the name of business, we need a government who works for people not corporations, We need affordable health care, and education. Republicans are in a totally different page. California will lead as always because we choose leadership not gridlock.

  14. avatar royk says:

    As an independent California it pains me to hear the Republican primary debates because it just hardens belief by the majority of Californians that Republicans are extreme and out of touch with the values of most Californians. Can someone tell the Republican politicos that its not just old fashion Republicans listening to these debates, but the general public. When Republican moderates win their primaries, more independents like me will be more willing to vote for a Republican.

  15. avatar KittyCat says:

    I am in a mixed marriage, a democrat and a republican. We were both deeply saddened at our choices for Gov & Senator. Had Tom Campbell won – you would have had both of our votes + our two college aged kids. Carly was out of touch and too far right but we would love to see Boxer go. BOTH parties need to bring back moderates. Quite frankly I believe there are significantly bigger issues facing this state and our nation than Roe v Wade. First party to bring me a moderate with a business plan and I’ll be more than happy to listen.

  16. avatar Adelaides Lament says:

    I agree that there are far greater problems facing California than Roe v. Wade – but the republicans are the ones who are stacking the deck against themselves. From the Terry Schiavo case, in which the repub congress felt they deserved to weigh in just to score some lunatic points, to the assassination of George Tiller, a very good human being who gave his life to save families and the unborn unneeded anguish, to U.S. Senators who openly declare that they don’t believe in science yet subscribe to fairy tales instead – the right wing, even some who appeared to be moderately sane in the past, have pandered themselves into a position that is frankly nuts to the majority of Californians.

    No – we don’t want to elect a woman who has known nothing but luxury and exquisite selfishness; and knows absolutely nothing about families and children, to be our senator (Fiorina). And we don’t want someone who has gotten to her billionaire status in life by cheating, lying and stepping on the least among us to be our governor (Whitman).

    However, as liberal as I am, and as much a loyal democrat as I have been, if Tom Campbell is the republican nominee running against Feinstein in 2012, he will get my vote.

    But I will be astounded if that is what the ticket ends up to be.

  17. avatar Moderate Democrat says:

    You are advising them to be Blue Dog Democrats!

  18. avatar royk says:

    Another popular stance for California Republicans is to promote a more efficient California gpvernment. Get rid of seniority. During this recession we have seen many of the best and the brightest get laid off, while the long-termers lcking new ideas or ambition are able to keep their jobs i the name of seniority. Bring meritocracy to government, it won’t cost more, and would probably allow us to do more with fewer people.

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