California Republican Party faces potential fallout from government shutdown

Published: Monday, Oct. 7, 2013 - 12:00 am
Last Modified: Monday, Oct. 7, 2013 - 6:41 am

State Republican Party leaders had hoped their fall convention would be a chance to shift focus away from the ideological entanglements that have contributed to its two-decades-long decline in California.

The practical matters of fundraising, voter registration and turnout, the party’s new chairman Jim Brulte has said, are ones any Republican can get behind.

But as the convention drew to a close here Sunday, a weekend full of party-building workshops and elected official roundtables was overshadowed by a federal government shutdown that could further damage the party’s standing in an increasingly diverse and Democratic-leaning state.

The impasse over government funding centers on a dispute over the federal health care overhaul, a law supported by large majorities of young people, Latinos and other ethnic voters in California – precisely the constituencies the state party is desperate to reach.

With national polls showing more people blame House Republicans than President Barack Obama or Senate Democrats for the impasse, even Republicans who feel their party is right to demand changes to the law – the near-unanimous opinion here – fear fallout in liberal California.

“My ideal is Obamacare will implode ... so the idea of standing up sounds good to me,” said Stephen Smith, a delegate from Los Angeles.

However, he said, “From a practical issue, this can’t continue.”

The Republican Party, which holds no statewide office and whose voter registration has fallen below 30 percent statewide, helped a Republican win election to the state Senate in a heavily Democratic district this summer. It announced ahead of the convention – and several more times during the party – that it had paid off more than $1 million in debt.

But the announcements were made against the backdrop of a shutdown saturating the evening news. The state party’s out-of-state guests were content to press their case that Obama and Senate Democrats are to blame.

“The issues are too big for President Obama and (Senate Majority Leader) Harry Reid to act so small,” Texas Gov. Rick Perry told delegates at dinner Saturday, in a speech that drew big applause.

Sharon Day, co-chair of the Republican National Committee, said the shutdown is one issue on which Republicans are rightfully engaged.

“Does it have an impact? I guess it will have an impact,” she said when asked about the effect of the dispute on the party. “But ... I believe what the Congress is doing is trying to find solutions, unlike the president and Harry Reid and (House Minority Leader) Nancy Pelosi, who just simply say: ‘I want it all, I want it now, and I don’t care what your compromises are. I’m not even going to show up to work and do my job.’”

Jon Fleischman, a conservative blogger and former state party executive director, said GOP members of Congress from California are listening to voters in their districts, not taking positions based on statewide polling.

Like other political observers, Fleischman said the shutdown may soon blow over, and it is unclear whom voters will fault – if they remember it all – by the time elections come around next year.

Ann Coil, a delegate from Santa Ana and a member of the newly formed Tea Party California Caucus, blamed the media for fanning flare-ups between more conservative and moderate elements of her party, but she said some of the damage is self-inflicted.

At a committee meeting at the convention, Coil said she was tired of Republicans calling each other names.

“We’ve lately been called ‘wacko birds,’” she said, referring to Sen. John McCain’s criticism of fellow Republicans Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and Justin Amash.

Later, Coil said, “We’re kind of fractionated.”

Divisions were apparent throughout the weekend.

Abel Maldonado, who is running for governor, was criticized by conservative members of his party for supporting temporary tax increases while in the Legislature. Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, a Twin Peaks Republican who is also running, took to a bullhorn to appeal to that conservative wing and decried “socialism when it comes to our health care.”

The Tea Party California Caucus, a coalition of groups from throughout the state, prodded the party on ideological lines, submitting resolutions on issues ranging from education and the environment to voter identification.

A measure urging the party to call for a state law requiring voters to identify themselves as registered voters was approved by delegates after being softened considerably to remove any reference to photo identification.

Leonard Stone, a tea party member and delegate from El Granada, in San Mateo County, said the voter identification and other tea party-backed resolutions “covered areas where it’s important to stand up and have something to say.”

Brulte, the new chairman, at first demurred when asked about the government shutdown, saying his “policy is not to talk about policy,” and then, “Look, anybody who knows California politics and the various communities in California knows that one issue doesn’t make or break a political party.”

But he acknowledged the difficulty the state party has differentiating itself from the expressions of higher-profile Republicans in Washington.

“Look, you’ve heard me say before that we get our news from the national news sources. We just do,” Brulte said.

“Most of the messages come out of Washington, D.C., and you’ve always heard me say that when they get it right, we get to surf on their wake, and when they get it wrong, prudence dictates we should just be quiet,” Brulte said. “I’m not going to prejudge whether they’re getting it right or wrong. Our job is to build (campaign) infrastructure.”

Call David Siders, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 321-1215. Follow him on Twitter @davidsiders

Read more articles by David Siders

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