We have no idea who will be California’s next governor after Jerry Brown rides into the sunset at the end of 2018 but we know this: all the hype around San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, who last week said he will not run, represented a lot of magical thinking by Republicans.
Over and over, GOP leaders and some of our gullible colleagues in the news media, have referred to Faulconer as the “best hope” for a statewide Republican contender. But here’s the catch: Faulconer may be a registered Republican, but he hasn’t run as a Republican, there’s no mention of the GOP on his blue campaign website and, most important, his stands on issues like immigration and gay rights conflict with California Republican orthodoxy.
Faulconer holds a non-partisan position and has run as a municipal reformer– not a Republican leader. Consider the issues he outlines on his website: fixing roads and infrastructure, investing in neighborhoods, creating jobs, education, environment, public safety, building relations with Mexico, pension reform, transparency and efficiency and homelessness. Any Democrat could run on these issues as easily as a Republican.
Party, What Party? We haven’t seen any polling to back this up, but we suspect many voters in San Diego haven’t a clue what party Faulconer belongs to because his slogan is “One San Diego,” a wholly non-partisan appeal to municipal unity.
This is not to say Faulconer couldn’t mount a statewide campaign as a Republican like former San Diego Mayor Pete Wilson did when he first ran for the U.S. Senate in 1982 (four years earlier Wilson also made a failed bid for the GOP nomination for governor). But those were different times: The California Republican Party was not then in the habit of advancing, for the most part, its most extreme right-wing candidates for high office, as it has in more recent years.
As we noted back in 2013 and again in 2014, the idea of backing Republicans in non-partisan local races and then pushing them along toward statewide partisan office, has been one of the cornerstones of GOP chairman Jim Brulte’s strategy to rebuild the state party. We even pointed out that Faulconer could be the test case for Brulte’s strategy. But, as we said then:
Their problem is not a “failure to communicate.” It’s the content of what’s being communicated: the GOP’s overarching commitment – as an organization – against abortion rights and gay marriage, against containing global warming, against the interests of labor and the working poor, against universal health care and gun control and against a path to citizenship for undocumented workers.
As a result, the Republican Party brand is so toxic in California today, it’s hard to see how even a moderate like Faulconer could win statewide, once he became formally associated with the GOP. Consider what happened to Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, an attractive candidate for State Controller in 2014 who, once burdened with the Republican label, got crushed 54-46 by Democrat Betty Yee.
All this helps explain why thus far, as far as the 2018 governor’s race is concerned, we’ve only heard from Democrats Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and Treasurer John Chiang, with potential entries that include former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa , former State Controller Steve Westly, billionaire climate activist Tom Steyer and current Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.
Perhaps there’s a Republican out there who could overcome the scarlet “R.” Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, comes to mind, except that she’s pretty much insisted she’s not interested in subjecting her personal life to the kind of scrutiny she’d get as a candidate.
But let’s stop the spin about Faulconer, Swearengin and any other officeholders who happen to be Republicans but who have only succeeded in non-partisan elections.