A break this week from the gloom and doom of Syria, budget impasses and the debt default - last week I attended the California Republican Convention in Anaheim and found it to be quite encouraging.
Let's start with a bit of realism. The land of Ronald Reagan is pretty barren these days. All eight of the state-wide constitutional offices are held by Democrats. Both US Senators are Democrats. In the 2012 elections Republicans declined from 19 to 15 of the state's 53 House seats. We also dropped below the one third threshold in the state Senate and Assembly necessary to block tax increases - or anything else. As businesses leave California, so do Republican voters.
So, the question: Is this the bottom? In the ebb and flow of politics will the Democrats overreach or become scandal prone?; are the issues all on the side of the Democrats?; will the Republicans continue to self-destruct? I'll hold the issues - energy policy, taxes and regulations, unfunded pension liabilities, immigration, the absurdly wasteful rail project - for another day, focusing instead on whether Republicans have their act together.
Optimism Point 1: Leadership. Jim Brulte, a former Republican leader in the state assembly and senate, was elected party chair in March. In six months he has - with the help of donors such as Charles Munger - eliminated the million dollar debt that has hobbled the party in recent years. He has spoken to Republican groups throughout the state preaching that the nuts and bolts role of the Party is to provide the structure and that policy is up to the candidates - no internal fights. He gives a shout out to the Tea Party (not a universal tendency of party leaders) and invited a SEIU local to help sponsor the convention (arguing that since many of their members are Republicans union leadership should split their sponsorships.) He gladly shares the stage with Vice Chair Harmeet Dhillon of San Francisco and others.
Optimism Point 2: Local candidate development. Defying conventional wisdom, Republicans have won more mayoral and city council races in California in the last two cycles than have Democrats, and now hold about half of the 2500 such posts. While generally in smaller communities, many are located in majority Democratic and Hispanic communities and serve as feeders for higher office. Accelerating the trend is Grow Elect, a group formed in 2011 to develop Hispanic candidates, which has close to 40 success stories. Good government matters when separated from the brand image. Republicans can win local elections.
Optimism Point 3: Focus. The national party is returning to California, establishing permanent field offices with a focus on Latino and Asian inclusion and concentration on a handful of competitive House seats. Likewise, the state party and its Trailblazers program will focus on the recapture of a handful of state senate and assembly seats necessary to breach the one third threshold. Republicans from throughout the state recently walked precincts and did phone banks to elect Andy Videk to an open Central Valley Senate seat; next up is an election to replace the disgraced Democratic mayor of San Diego. Republicans can win key district elections.
Optimism Point 4: Technology. The Republican National Committee has appointed a chief technology officer, Andy Barkett, whose Silicon Valley location is developing tools along the line of those used in Barack Obama's 2012 campaign. Reflecting awareness, the CRP delegates elected a 25 year old social media expert to a position of party leadership. The vision is to develop a set of tools to support candidates at all levels rather than just Organizing For America's presidential level.
Optimism Point 5: Messaging. Party leadership and the delegates are all obsessed with the need to avoid social issue kerfuffles which the media so much enjoy. The bylaws were modified with a view toward eliminating the potential of nominating embarrasing candidates. As much Tea Party enthusiasm as was present, each of their sessions was preceeded by an admonition about being under the magnifying glass and staying on the fiscal restraint/opportunity/good government themes. Try as they might, the best that the media could do was one offensive anti-Hillary button being sold by an independent vendor.
California won't become Texas, or even Colorado, but progress on the margin in a state which represents 12% of the US population is good news for national Republicans.
For those who have been waiting for Black leaders to come forward with clear thinking about Republican principles, here's a video of Louisiana State Senator Elbert Guillory which should be widely distributed. Please watch and think about who you can forward it to.