Capitol Alert

California GOP needs a candidate for governor. It won’t be Jim Brulte

Jim Brulte, the chairman of the California Republican Party on Wed., Dec. 4, 2013 in Sacramento.
Jim Brulte, the chairman of the California Republican Party on Wed., Dec. 4, 2013 in Sacramento.

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer is facing tremendous pressure to run for governor when fourth-term Democrat Jerry Brown’s term comes up in 2018.

A Republican in the moderate-coastal mold, Faulconer has guided the Democratic city since his predecessor Bob Filner’s political implosion. Faulconer likely has the strongest record of any potential GOP challenger, a trait that would be useful to convince skeptical donors to open their wallets in this blue state.

Faulconer previously said he wouldn’t run, which raises the question: If not him, then who?

Some in the Republican Party are privately sharing their hopes to draw into the race a man with deep relationships with activists, officeholders and donors: California GOP Chairman Jim Brulte. He served 14 years in the Legislature, leading his colleagues at a time of relative parity between the two parties.

They contend that Brulte’s candidacy would put the minority party in the best position to, if not win the state’s highest political office, prevent the GOP from hemorrhaging seats in the midterm election, a growing fear given the state’s increasingly Democratic tilt, and President Donald Trump’s potential to activate opposing voters.

Brulte’s admirers say there are other reasons why he should consider running, among them his own political record, his ability to raise money, the trust he’s won from activists and elected leaders and his ability to hammer home a message without getting sidetracked by outside forces, including in Washington.

The Democrats already competing are Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, Treasurer John Chiang, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and former state schools chief Delaine Eastin, with others expected to follow.

Brulte, however in demand from the GOP he may be, insists that he’s exceedingly unlikely to acquiesce. It was five years ago that he redirected more than $700,000 in leftover campaign contributions to support charities primarily in his home turf Inland Empire.

Brulte, now 60, described his life as unfolding in three acts, with the first focused on serving in the Reagan and Bush administrations, and then in the Legislature. He went on to build a good book of business that he continues to manage as a principal at the public affairs and lobbying firm California Strategies.

“If the fourth act is eternity in heaven, I am trying to figure out what the third act is,” he said. “But I am relatively sure it will not be serving in public office ... I am not being coy, it’s just that I don’t have the drive to do that. You have to really, really, really want it.”

Republican activists last year changed their rules to allow Brulte to run again, and he said Monday that he hopes to serve another two to four years as their chairman, “trying to grow and refocus and reinvigorate the party.” “I just want to help other people realize their dreams of public service,” he said.

Then, he’ll step back from the constant demands of work he’s felt since high school, when he delivered produce, the last job that he didn’t take home at night.

“I served. I am proud of my service and it’s time for somebody else,” Brulte said. “And I am OK with that. In fact, I am better than OK.

“A dirty little secret most people don’t know about me is I’m an introvert,” he added. “I want to be anonymous, to walk into room and have no one know me.”

Christopher Cadelago: 916-326-5538, @ccadelago