by Steven Greenhut | August 16, 2017 2:56 pm
SACRAMENTO – Even Republicans admit the state GOP is something of a rudderless ship these days. The party doesn’t control any constitutional offices. Democrats have supermajorities in both houses of the Legislature. Assembly Republican Leader Chad Mayes of Yucca Valley, is the target of a grassroots effort to force him from his leadership post after he backed a Democratic bill to expand the cap-and-trade system for 10 years.
Meanwhile, the national Republican Party has become anathema to ethnically diverse California, especially after President Donald Trump doubled down on his initial comments about Saturday’s white-supremacist march in Charlottesville, Virginia. On Tuesday, the president assured the media that there were some “very fine people on both sides” at the protests. Yes, the California party’s predicament is dismal, especially from a recruitment standpoint.
Yet Tuesday night, one prominent GOP official detailed a positive direction for the party. San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer says he isn’t running for governor, but gave a major speech to the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco regarding the future of the California Republican Party. He wasn’t there “to offer suggestions about what we ought to do,” he said. “I’m here to tell Republicans what we’ve already done in San Diego.”
He described it as a call to action – an opportunity to rebuild the party centered on the theme of “fixing California.” Faulconer detailed five themes on which the party should unite as a way to win over new generations of voters. The first of them involves freedom. “Not only is individual liberty part of California’s heritage, it’s a classic conservative principle – one that Republicans have watered down to our own detriment,” he said. “People have stopped seeing the GOP as the party of freedom. They see it as the party of ‘no.’”
He even singled out a freedom theme that could be controversial in a socially conservative party: freedom of sexual orientation. But he contrasted his vision with that of the Democratic Party, “which has organized itself around the proposition that an individual’s most defining qualities are gender, sexuality and race.” He calls that a party based on differences, whereas he envisions a “New Republican Party” built around a set of common ideas.
“One of our biggest failures is that Republicans do not communicate our shared values to underrepresented communities,” Faulconer said. He pointed to his successful San Diego mayoral race: “Facing a Hispanic candidate in a city where just 25 percent of voters are registered Republican, I won more than 57 percent of the total vote – and close to 40 percent of the Latino vote. … Why? Because I campaigned in communities Republicans wrote off as lost – and Democrats took for granted.”
His second theme involved immigration. Faulconer said that Republicans are doing a poor job inviting new Americans to join the party of freedom and limited government. In fact, he said he wouldn’t even need to give such a speech if the GOP weren’t failing at that message. He called for welcoming immigrants, while acknowledging that the party can’t ignore the issue of illegal immigration. “We must push for efficient ports of entry and get smarter about border security,” the mayor said, while emphasizing the importance of treating nearby Mexico as “neighbors and economic partners.”
Faulconer’s third theme involved the environment, about engaging responsibly on conservation and climate-change issues with “plans that don’t plunder the middle class.” He again used his city as an example. “San Diego is now on a path to slash greenhouse gases in half and shift to 100 percent renewable energy – without a tax increase,” he said.
His fourth theme is for California leaders to focus on California issues, rather than “chasing the latest soundbite out of Washington, D.C.” He chided Sacramento Democrats, who he says “are suffering from what I like to call ‘outrage FOMO’ – a Fear Of Missing Out on the latest controversy that will allow them to score political points on social media and TV.” By contrast, Faulconer said the “New Republicans” need to focus on “the fundamentals of government service.”
That includes infrastructure. “The fact that 50 percent of California’s roadways are in poor condition is an absolute failure,” he said. “We have the nation’s second highest gas tax but some of the worst roads, with no guarantees that the taxes we pay at the pump will actually go toward fixing the problem.” But, for his fifth and final point, he focused on the overall need for “reform.” This theme involved the role of the state’s powerful unions in resisting reform.
“Too often Sacramento politicians are unwilling to say ‘no’ to entrenched special interests – at our expense,” he said. “California ranks in the bottom 20 percent of K-12 schools nationwide. Yet Democrats continue to side with unions against meaningful changes to improve student achievement.” He noted that “California falls dead-last in housing affordability in the continental United States” but “Democrats are blocking revisions to housing rules that were designed to protect the environment but that labor has hijacked for its own gain.”
He noted that California was “rated the worst state for business” because “lawmakers keep layering regulation on top of regulation until budding entrepreneurs are crushed, and only the biggest businesses survive.” He also pointed to the state’s massive pension debt and, again, used San Diego as an example, given that city’s successful voter-approved pension reform.
These reform themes echo talking points Republican leaders have traditionally made. And he was predictably pointed in his critique of Democrats, noting that their policies have resulted in “economic inequality; troubled schools; sky-high housing costs; failing infrastructure; and crippling pension debt.” Those problems have festered, he added, while Sacramento “pursues the kind of political fantasies that grip a party when it gains complete and total control.” But his approach signified a break from typical Republican efforts.
To break that one-party control, Mayor Faulconer’s blueprint focuses heavily on repackaging the party’s long-held ideas and reaching out to communities that the party hasn’t successfully appealed to in the past. He envisions a day “when San Francisco’s Republican mayor is standing before you, she isn’t talking about how California Republicans are endangered, but rather how we are ushering in a government that is uniting our people and looking out for the middle class.” It’s a bold challenge for a party that seems to be collapsing, but his ideas received a warm reception.
Steven Greenhut is Western region director for the R Street Institute. Write to him at [email protected]
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