Flag Day, OCGOP style

JUNE 17, 2010

By BRIAN CALLE

An often forgotten holiday-of-sorts, Flag Day, is celebrated on June 14 and is the official day when Americans pay homage to the “Star-Spangled Banner.” One of the biggest celebrations of Old Glory in California is the annual Flag Day Dinner hosted by the Orange County Republican Party for donors, political activists, party leaders, candidates, elected officials, political spectators and this year, Tea Party Patriots, as they have been dubbed.

For those who are unfamiliar with the OCGOP Flag Day Dinner, it has become one of the pinnacle political events for conservative, Republican politicos in California. Politicians scamper to attend and line up to be the featured speaker, an honor that helps with political support but also fundraising. Monday night’s dinner at the Irvine Hyatt was no different in that regard. What was different, however, was the message delivered by the keynote speaker, GOP US Senate candidate from Florida Marco Rubio, and the warm reception he received from event attendees.

Ironically two years ago in 2008 another Floridian, Florida governor Charlie Crist, was virtually booed off stage for overly flattering remarks about California’s Republican-in-name-only governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.  His comments were simply out of touch with conservative, Republican voters, especially those in attendance for the event who have little tolerance for the wishy-washy, moderate approach of Arnold.  The selection of Crist as a speaker at that time also characterized an era for the GOP hell-bent on moderating, that is, moving to the middle on public policy issues and becoming more like the Democrats. Crist had been invited to speak because at the time he was on moderate John McCain’s short list to be his vice presidential nominee. The Republican Party, after having lost a majority in congress for spending like liberals, was trying to find its soul, or at least some votes, and decided moving leftward would do the trick. It failed of course and now Republicans have moved rightward again led by Tea Party activists is restructuring the GOP. The trajectory of the Flag Day dinner over the last two years is a good example of the party’s shift.

To many, Marco Rubio was one of the early harbingers of the Tea Party movement. He entered the race for the Republican nomination for the senate as a massive underdog against Charlie Crist even though he was clearly the more conservative of the two. With support from Tea Party activists he surged ahead of Crist in the polls forcing the Republican governor to leave the GOP primary and run for governor as an independent. Now Rubio is one of their leading candidates along with Sharron Angle in Nevada. Without a Tea Party movement Rubio’s candidacy would have made little headway. At the Flag Dinner he said when he first decided to run the only “people that believed in me lived in my house.” Now he is one the leaders of a national conservative resurgence.

Rubio’s keynote message was simple: A free market system is crucial to a free society; government is best when it is limited; the world is safer when America is strong. He criticized the new era of expansionist, interventionist government as futile instead stating “American free enterprise has eradicated more poverty than any social program in the world ever has.” And he argued that the Obama administration and the leadership of the Democratic Party are out to “fundamentally redefine the role of government in our lives and the role of America in the world.” He views this November as a referendum on those advances.  His message was well received.

Much like the GOP convention earlier this year, the event was swarming with political consultants, fundraisers, slate mailers, printers and others who make their money off of elections, in this case the election of Republicans. It makes perfect since for them to be in attendance further substantiating relationships with political party leaders, ingratiating themselves further to elected officials and of course meeting up and comers who might soon be clients. Fortunately, unlike the convention the audience was packed with activists and “angry voters” as OCGOP chairman Scott Baugh referred fondly to them early in the evening.

Aside from Rubio’s speech, excitement  was evident among local Orange County Republicans in attendance at the Flag Day dinner who viewed the June 8 election results as a huge victory against powerful public employee unions, specifically the county’s most powerful unions the Orange County Employees Association and the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs. The two unions spent upwards of a million dollars to defeat county Board of Supervisors candidate Shawn Nelson but Nelson won by huge margins.  He received the biggest ovation of the evening when he was announced. The local county GOP, led by Baugh, has been at the forefront of the battle against public employee unions and the county of Orange has been leading the charge for pension reforms. On both fronts, local party activists had much to celebrate

From the reception at the Flag Day dinner, Orange County Republican activists are more energized and enthusiastic than they have been in some time. They have lot to be happy about going into November. Momentum is on their side.

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