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GOP tries to unify message

By   /   Wednesday, November 26th, 2008  /   Comments Off on GOP tries to unify message

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After painful losses in the November elections, California’s Republican Party stalwarts are trying to decide whether to head for the beach or hole up in the Central Valley.

The labels aren’t perfect. But lined up on one side are Beach Republican moderates such as 15th District State Sen. Abel Maldonado and Neal Andrews, a Ventura city councilman who was recently elected to the county’s Republican Central Committee.

Squarely on the other side of the political mountain are inlanders such as 19th State Senate District contender Tony Strickland – whose race remains undecided – 24th District U.S. Rep. Elton Gallegly and outgoing 19th District State Sen. Tom McClintock. Their values reflect the Central Valley, a traditional GOP stronghold.

Beach Republicans say they are willing to work across the aisle on environmental issues and immigration and that they don’t want to get entangled in social issues such as gay marriage. Central Valley Republicans tend to uphold party ideology, and they have shown a willingness to dive headfirst into social wedge issues.

“I think we’re unique,” said Maldonado, who grew up in Santa Maria and whose district stretches from there to Santa Cruz. “Why can’t Republicans talk to environmental groups? Why can’t we protect the environment and stimulate the economy?”

“If we get back to what the Republican Party was all about, with people like President Reagan or Senator Barry Goldwater – it’s all about the growth of the federal government and the involvement of the federal government in our lives,” said Mike Stoker, a former Santa Barbara County supervisor and key figure in the Strickland campaign. “The sooner we get back to that, we’ll be successful again.”

Between the two camps, a few Republicans – such as Jeff Gorell, a Camarillo attorney running for the 37th Assembly District in 2010 – say the question facing the party is simply one of which issues to amplify. Done skillfully, Gorell said, no part of the party’s coalition has to be alienated.

To be successful in 2010 and beyond, all camps agree that Republicans must re-establish themselves as the party of limited government, low taxes and fiscal responsibility. They agree that the party’s focus should be stimulating the economy and fixing the state budget. “When the issues of job creation and economic development are spoken about, we’re the adults in the room,” Gorell said.

But the camps’ ideas of how to get there vary, as do their views about which compromises to make or eschew along the way. Should Republicans broaden the tent, motivate the base, or perform a mix of both?

The federal stalemate over immigration in 2007 – and the sometimes acrid role of certain Republicans in it – has hurt the California party, especially among Hispanics, who voted heavily for President-elect Barack Obama. To succeed going forward, the party will need to bring those voters and more into the tent, Republicans said.

“We are committing political suicide by not talking to Hispanics,” said Maldonado, a self-described member of the Beach Republicans. “There’s no secret what California is going to look like in 2020.”

“I believe that we really have to rethink the party’s approach to social groups,” Andrews agreed. “As I look at our experience in this campaign, I saw us essentially not able to communicate effectively with the younger population, younger women and the Hispanic community.”

One way to do that, Andrews said, is to focus on issues such as jobs and economic growth rather than hot-button social issues.

“I don’t believe that the question of marriage is central to Republican philosophy,” Andrews said. “What I’m suggesting is that it’s been counterproductive for us to allow the party become so identified with social conservativism when it’s economic conservativism and limited government that is our true focus.”

Gorell thinks that shift can happen without shutting out social conservatives. He also said the party will have to foster inspiring leaders from city councils and school boards on up. “We need to do a better job as a party of recruiting a bench and helping that back bench come up the ranks,” he said.

Gorell and Maldonado also agreed that it might be a good time to put AB 32 – a sweeping bill to reduce carbon emissions – on hold for a few years.

“While I think it’s something we can work with down the road, I think forcing people to do things without the technology available is going to hurt the economy,” Maldonado said. “I want clean air for my kids, but you know what? I want our kids to have jobs.”

Republicans are finding agreement on fixing the state budget – the answer is to cut spending and not to raise taxes. The budget morass arose because the state was “living off its credit cards and living in Disneyland,” Stoker said, adding that the state should spend within its means.

“The best thing for the Republicans to win back seats in the assembly and the senate is to put that message at the forefront, and, frankly, take on the governor,” Stoker said. “We should hold [Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger] accountable and criticize him on it.”

For his part, Maldonado is firm against tax hikes and proposes putting some state properties on the auction block, such as the lucrative chunk of bayside property that houses San Quentin prison.

“Why not move death row and sell that piece of property?” Maldonado said. “The state of California has a lot of extra properties out there, and we ought to sell them.”

Policy aside, there are also tactical issues.

Party leaders said the GOP must retool its ground game to register more voters. But that won’t be enough – it must also overcome a steep deficit in making use of the Internet, where the GOP fell far short  in the national campaign this year and where the Obama effort built a big advantage.

Though Republicans lost both branches of the federal government, not all news is bad. Democrats will have no one to blame for shortcomings over the next two years, Republicans said, and that reminds more than a few political veterans of 1992, the last time the GOP lost big.

“We turned around and two years later had the Contract with America, where the Republican Party went back to its basics,” Gorell said. “Within that context, I see a greater opportunity now for Republicans than we’ve had in a dozen or more years.”

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