An awakening of Californiaâs Republican Party?

Feb 28, 2012

Written by Brian Calle, Originally published in the Orange County Register.

A plan to make the California Republican Party once again more than a token force in America’s largest state was outlined to GOP insiders at their annual convention.

The weekend gathering in the Bay Area city of Burlingame heard from two of the state party’s most influential members of Congress, Reps. Darrell Issa and Kevin McCarthy. Mr. McCarthy is part of the Republican leadership team in the House, and Mr. Issa is chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, the top House investigative body. He also is largely credited for spearheading the historic recall of former Gov. Gray Davis in 2003.

Mr. McCarthy, the House Majority Whip, represents a central California district that stretches from Paso Robles to Lancaster. In his speech, he addressed the party’s largely outcast status and referenced a question raised in an Orange County Register editorial last week.

“Is the California Republican Party going to stay relevant,” he asked? “The fastest-growing party in California is Decline-to-state: Are we going to let them continue to write those stories, or are we going to admit that we’ve hit rock bottom and can only go up from here?”

Democrats, besides currently holding all statewide elective offices, already can pass a state budget without Republican votes and could be close to potentially achieving two-thirds majorities in the state Senate and Assembly, which would allow them to impose and raise taxes on their own.

The GOP stumbled, we and others have pointed out, with the inability of Republican legislators to adhere to typically conservative policies and to present a coherent message palatable in a state where political dynamics and demographics have shifted rapidly. Then there’s the fact that California’s top Republican for seven years, former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, at times seemed hardly a Republican.

Drawing comparisons between the GOP’s straits in Congress a few years ago and in California today, Rep. McCarthy said many believed the GOP was effectively dead after it lost control of the House and Senate in November 2006. “After we lost the majority in Congress,” he said, “Time magazine said that the GOP will never be relevant again” but [in November 2010] Republicans took back the House, and “87 new freshmen defeated some 60 incumbents.”

The Republicans resurgence nationally was aided by widespread opposition to President Barack Obama and by the Tea Party movement, neither of which is as dynamic in California.

Mr. McCarthy announced plans to a program to recruit and develop young conservatives to run for the Legislature. Called Trailblazers, the program would resemble the Young Guns program that Mr. McCarthy and others develop to elect young conservatives to Congress.

The “same concept that was used across the country can be implemented in California,” he told the convention.

Republicans in California face a long road back to power, but Mr. McCarthy and other state party leaders have begun addressing the party’s waning relevance, which may be the first step in a meaningful resurgence, but only if Republicans do not duplicate the follies that brought the party to its lowly estate.