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The War for the California Republican Party

At our next Republican Convention here in California, the most important vote we take may be the vote to close our primary elections, ensuring that people are Republicans before they can choose who will represent our party on the ballot. Since 1999 when we opened our primaries to those who do not join a party, we have had no noteworthy statewide electoral success from primary-nominated Republicans (our dear Governor Schwarzenegger, remember, bypassed the primary process in the recall of Governor Gray Davis).

So the benefits of the open primary have been shown to be minimal. Yet a certain coalition of Republicans will be fighting hard to keep our primaries open. Notable in that coalition are the backers of Meg “I’m a huge fan of Van Jones” Whitman, candidate for Governor; Carly “The fundamental objective [of HP is] to be a good international citizen” Fiorina, candidate for Senate; and of course Governor Arnold “Right-wing crazies” Schwarzenegger. See a pattern?

This is what I’ve been saying all along about the Chuck DeVore/Carly Fiorina primary race for Senate. This is about more than who’s going to be the sacrifice on the ballot this time around. This is about what our party will stand for, and who will get to claim the mantle of speaking for the party the next time our legislative conservatives obstruct Democrat tax hikes.

And I’m perfectly willing to concede our two US Senate seats and Governor’s chair in exchange for strong Assembly and state Senate caucuses, as well as strong conservatives in the US House, free of undermining influences from said Senate nominees and Governor’s offices. We’re not going to win the statewide offices anyway, because if push came to shove the unions and their allies would start running ads with as many lies as it took to win, or to raise the money it took to run those ads, just as the pro-abort forces did to beat back Parental Notification last year.

Just look at the record: We did no better containing spending under Schwarzenegger than under Davis*, this despite his big talk on taxes and spending. As usual, the squish on social policy turned out to be a squish on fiscal policy as well, failing to use the line-item veto to bring the budget under control, instead letting the spending grow until it became a crisis, and then supporting tax hikes and accounting shell games to pretend to fix the crisis.

Outside of the obscure technical offices like Secretary of State or Insurance Commissioner, or the recall fluke which bypassed the base**, with or without Independents in our primaries we haven’t been able to do anything statewide since we ran hard on illegal immigration in 1994. And of course once we did that, President Clinton triangulated on us with Operation Gatekeeper. He did so with urgency in order to keep our precious Electoral votes off the table in 1996. Note that since his goal was only to help California, and more specifically to help himself in California, he did nothing to help Arizona. In fact he just sent a lot of our runoff their way, which is why they followed our path and were a major state in the Minuteman movement a decade later.

And yes, Governor Girly Man has been wide open about his express aims to change the rules to crush conservatives, whom he once termed as “right-wing crazies” and, in the context of impeachment, “an embarassment.” That’s why he supported a plan to change the way districts are drawn in the state, selling Proposition 11 as a way to kick out conservatives who wouldn’t budge on taxes, accomplishing this by spreading us conservative voters to prevent us from controlling any districts. But even that’s not enough to satisfy his hunger to purge us from the party, because now he wants to ensure that we Republicans don’t even control our own primaries.

So sure, I understand why outsiders may want us in California to nominate the ambiguous-on-life Fiorina*** in order to try to kick out the Senate’s dumbest member, but we who live here have more at stake. We don’t want our party to become useless instead of just weak. We also want our party to represent its members, and so must close our primaries to all but our own members. Joining the party is a fast and easy process; why not encourage Californians to join it to vote in a heated primary? Let’s get more people identifying as Republican instead of just dipping a toe into our pool, then pulling it back out later.

The author is a lifelong California Resident, a new media and online consultant for hire, and can be found on Twitter.


* According to the Department of Finance, General Fund spending went up from $57.8 billion (1998-1999; Wilson’s last Budget) to $78.3 billion (2002-2003; Davis’s last budget) under Gray Davis, an increase of 35.5%. The budget then grew from that $78.3 billion to $103.0 billion (2007-2008; the last pre-recession budget) under Arnold Schwarzenegger, an increase of 33.0%. Only the Constitutional requirement for a balanced budget forced him to end the good times for government unions. He would never have done so on his own without the recession slashing tax revenues.

** It’s clear to me, from the results of the Recall election, that if not for the Recall in 2003 it would have been McClintock v. Davis in 2006, because the base Republicans backed McClintock while the center-left backed Schwarzenegger, but the latter doesn’t generally vote in our primaries. It also would have been Bustamante as the frontrunner this time but he went and backstabbed the whole state party and struck out on his own in the Recall, only to get slapped down. Now Jerry “Moonbeam” Brown, Ronald Reagan’s successor, is probably going to get another shot.

*** We all know that’s what people mean when they call her electable. She calls herself personally pro-life (like John Kerry), but never elaborates. That’s all anybody means when they call a Republican electable in a Democrat-leaning state: squishy on the issues. And abortion is the king of issues in this state. You won’t be able to turn on a television or radio without seeing or hearing Barbara Boxer saying “woman’s right to choose” no matter whom we nominate next year, and especially if we’re dealing with a Supreme Court vacancy in the summer of 2010.

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