by John | March 19, 2014 9:10 am
At last weekend’s spring convention in Burlingame, California Republicans promised an effort to “Rebuild, Renew, Reclaim.”
“We’re pushing the party outside of its comfort zone,” California Republican Party Chairman Jim Brulte said in advance of the convention. “And we’re already seeing the benefits.”
So did the party’s convention mantra prove to be more than just a slogan?
GOP groups, activists and delegates, who’ve traditionally felt excluded from the state party, describe last weekend’s convention as a “blockbuster” step forward in terms of inclusiveness and creating a broader, more accepting party.
“This convention was blockbuster for Log Cabin,” Charles Moran, chairman of the California Log Cabin Republicans, said of the 2014 spring convention. “The last few years, things have been increasingly getting better for us as we’ve grown and the Party leadership has been more willing to engage with us. But, this convention took that to a whole new level.”
Once at the margins, California’s chapter of the the nation’s largest organization of gay and lesbian Republicans says that it is on the path toward an official charter from the GOP, a thought unheard of just a decade ago. The group’s annual luau-themed convention hospitality suite was packed the entire night, despite being right across the hall from the suite of Assemblyman Tim Donnelly of Hesperia, the conservative running for governor.
Then again, the two aren’t mutually exclusive: many Log Cabin Republicans, and their supporters, are conservative backers of the Tea Party star.
“The mix of people in our suite really does show the diversity of Log Cabin — roughly half the folks in our suite were wearing Donnelly stickers, and the other half Kashkari stickers,” said Moran, who added that gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari, a moderate, was the first candidate at the Log Cabin’s doorstep. “I really can’t think of another place in the convention where there was this much intermingling of the two camps.”
It wasn’t just gay and lesbian Republicans that felt more welcomed by the nearly 1,000 delegates and activists at the Hyatt Regency San Francisco Airport. Other groups, who have felt that the GOP wasn’t communicating with them, noticed a change in the party’s desire to communicate. Literally.
At convention after convention, unlike their Democratic counterparts, Republicans have failed to provide an American Sign Language interpreter to accompany convention speakers. That’s now changed.
This year’s spring convention, for the first time in recent history, included an ASL interpreter for deaf and hard-of-hearing delegates.
Consider it a small change that shows the party is serious about its promise to “Rebuild, Renew, Reclaim.”
“We had a request from a delegate, and we want the party to be accessible to all,” party spokesman Mark Standriff said of the change.
Allen Wilson, a state party delegate who is hard of hearing, said he’s been asking the party for years to provide an ASL interpreter. Eventually, he stopped asking.
“I truly thank Chairman Brulte and Vice Chairman Dhillon for making this accommodation,” said Wilson, who is active in Republican politics. “The Deaf and Hard of Hearing struggle everyday on challenges for jobs, education and equal access. We don’t want a handout but acknowledgment of our challenges should come with empathy not sympathy.”
The Hearing Loss Association of America estimates that roughly 20 percent of Americans, 48 million people, report some degree of hearing loss. That number includes a third of Americans over the age of 65 who report some hearing loss.
California Republican Party Vice Chair Harmeet Dhillon, who received complaints from friends that felt excluded from full participation in political events, said she’s proud to see the party make the change.
“I’m proud that our party is really trying to reach every interested voter and activist by making them welcome at our keynote lunch through the inclusion of sign language interpreters at our convention,” Dhillon said. “Today more people were able to receive [former Secretary of State Condolleezza] Rice’s inspirational message about liberty, global responsibility and educational opportunity for all Americans, rich and poor.”
All of the party’s changes are getting noticed by national leaders and the media. Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus told the Bay Area’s KTVU that it’s providing financial support to help the party rebuild. “The RNC national party is spending real money here to help the GOP rebuild itself and we’re starting on the ground,” he said.
“These events have felt like those post-soccer game parties where the team that lost 10-1 tries to convince itself that the next contest will be better,” wrote Steven Greenhut, California columnist for the UT San Diego. “The buzz among convention-goers was that there actually was a buzz.”
If, as many party bosses privately hope, Kashkari wins a place in the Top Two primary election in June, expect the buzz to continue. Top Two produces two winners, the likely other one being Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown, who then face off in the November election.
“The first candidate at our doorstep was Neal Kashkari, who gave an impassioned plea for the party to modernize, grow the tent and get with the times,” said Moran of the Log Cabin Republicans.
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