When I covered the California Republican Convention two years ago, the crowd was in a foul mood. Republicans were just digesting the news of former state senator Abel Maldonado's vote to cross party lines and sign onto a tax raising budget deal. The governor had worked out the deal with Democrats and needed one more Republican vote. Both Schwarzenegger and Maldonado would have heard an earful that day if they had the courage to cross L Street and meet up with the convention goers. They did not.
This year, it is hard to get a sense of the crowd; they seem divided. Many in the GOP are uplifted by the national midterm elections, as well as being deeply disappointed with California’s results. While some are buoyed by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, and his victory with his state's long-term fiscal reforms, many feel another sellout coming in the golden state's GOP caucus. Time will tell.
As this year's convention rolls out of town, many feel two competing emotions, hope and fear. The hope comes in the form of redistricting, and the opportunity to make a deal with the governor for real, long-term budget reform. The fear is Brown will pick off two moderate Republicans in each house in an effort to put a five year extension of higher taxes on the June ballot.
The redistricting effort could make for many more competitive elections in 2012. Last year there were really only a handful of truly competitive seats up for grabs. Both sides poured huge amounts of money into these races. The hope is that many more districts will have new representatives in the next election cycle.
As for the budget deal, that could be a make or break deal for the GOP. Having a handful of Republicans sign on with Jerry Brown's one year of budget cuts, at the expense of extending higher taxes for five years, could make the Republicans a minority party for another decade. If Republicans stay united and force meaningful pension reform, and other long-term budget reforms, in return for putting Brown's tax measure on the ballot, the party could become relevant again.
Pinning your hopes on the backbone of California's Republicans is a three-to-one bet at best. Three being they cave in, one that they hold fast, but at least we are having this discussion. If the voters did not pass 2008's prop 11, just imagine the closed-door meetings Democrats would be having with vulnerable Republicans right now. "Here’s the new map of your district if you vote with us, it's still a Republican majority district, here’s the map of your district if you don't, it takes in this new area and turns your district to a Democrat majority."
Right now, the California Citizens Redistricting Commission is busy drawing those lines; the maps will come out in May. No matter how they draw the new district maps, they will be better than the legislature drawing them for their own political advantage.
As far as Governor Brown's plan to put the tax extension on the ballot, there is an all out effort to get his message out; let the people decide. Okay, I am all for letting the people decide, so let's make this a pro-choice election. Let's have one proposition for the tax extension, one for a spending limit based on the last three-year’s average of revenue, and one for pension reform for public employee unions. Let the people decide! Democrats are opposed to putting these on the ballot along with taxes; I guess they are only pro-choice if that choice is higher taxes.
As Republicans try to come together after a drubbing in the last election, they will have to do a better job at getting their message out. What should their message be? Here is what I think it should be;
Imagine California being one of the best places in the nation to start a new business? What would it look like if California welcomed new companies into the state with incentives, not driving them out with over-regulation and sky-high taxes? What would the unemployment rate be if we sent people to Sacramento who knew how to grow California's private sector economy? What would our housing market look like if the unemployment rate were cut in half? What would the dropout rate, and test scores look like if you gave parents a voucher to send their children to the school of their choice? Imagine a California where we actually tackled our long-term fiscal outlook and put the state on track where the budget is balanced on time and with little effort.
Republicans need to start going on offense. If you only speak the local chamber of commerce, small business round tables, and Republican events, you are preaching to the choir. Getting your base out when only thirty one percent of Californians are registered as Republicans, means you lose, every time. Democrats have a thirteen percent advantage right now; you need to move those numbers closer together. You do that by showing up in places you have never been before.
You need to get out, to reach people who don't know you, and don't know your ideas. This may be uncomfortable. This may mean you are the only dissenting voice on a public panel in a liberal town hall. This may mean you are alone in a sea of students at a college campus. This may mean you have nasty editorials written about you in your local paper. This may mean dealing with angry, rude people. That is in the job description of growing into a majority. If you are not up to it, if you don't want get out there and fight this battle of ideas on their turf, then you should not run for re-election. I'll guarantee you will have primary opponent who will.
This could get interesting.