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Moderation in More Things

Feb
27
2006

From the chat at the California Republican Party convention in San Jose it’s clear that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has decided to take his re-election bid seriously.
More importantly, he’s talked a bunch of the party’s moderates into helping him out. So if you’re a Democrat – here and elsewhere in the country – you might worry. Because the very public, very polite hardball that was being played between moderate and conservative Republicans this weekend was deftly executed. It may well be a road map for how Republicans across the country stare down conservative and get a moderate on the ticket. Who wins with this equation on a national stage? Sen. John McCain, that’s who.
California conservatives – Saturday that was a press conference of five white men – are up in arms over what they see as the abandonment of the party’s core values. They’re ticked off at Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s desire to raise the minimum wage (which benefits minorities and hurts businesses), his appointment of Democratic judges to the state bench (who are soft on the death penalty – no one mentioned that a Republican judge had ruled against the state’s ban on same-sex marriages) as well as his plans to actually use government bond money for its intended purpose (building roads and bridges instead of paying off bad utility debts).
They’re a loud and powerful bunch but Democratic consultant Garry South’s crack about “The Donner Party” and cannibalization isn’t entirely wishful thinking on the part of his chosen candidate, Steve Westly. “None of the above” is the fastest growing party in California for some good, easy to understand reasons so conservatives sitting on their hands and not working the election – which is essentially what this group promised – may mean less this November than it ever did.
California Republicans don’t exactly have a track record in which you can take pride. Last time California had a regular election the state’s conservatives gave us Bill Simon because he was opposed to abortion. Simon promptly turned around and lost the general election to Grey Davis, a case of two pols out-boring each other. The front-running going into that Republican convention, former L.A. Mayor Richard Riorden would probably have won against Davis and might – having a personality – have escaped recall. The Simon candidacy was preceeded by Pete Wilson’s race-baiting disguised as “immigration reform” which 10 years ago turned Latinos and other recent citizens into Democrats. And I’m leaving out former Rep. Darryl Issa’s funding of the recall so he could be governor – until, of course, it was discovered that his brother was a car thief and that Issa himself wasn’t uh, untouched by that relationship. So it’s about time moderates re-claimed their party.
In Palo Alto lawyer Duff Sundheim, Schwarzenegger has a decent ally. Sundheim held court in the convention press room, the very picture of openness, co-operation and what the business folks these days like to call “transparency.” Noting, almost in passing, that the state’s Republican party had a long-standing reputation for being a “my way or the highway” group, particularly when it came to dealing with women. Sundheim came across as a moderate, interested, patient guy. “I tried to listen to a bunch of different perspectives,” he told reporters.
That’s nonsense, of course, he and the rest of the party leadership worked the party committee to make sure that the proposals favored by conservatives didn’t make it to the convention floor for votes that would embarrass the governor. The proposals were discussed – an easy-to swallow face-saver – of course but there was no action. Still, Sundheim did well in placating conservatives. “If we can’t have that open discussion within our party we are not fit to rule this state,” Sundheim said, sounding a lot like, er, a Democrat, the party where fractious disagreement has been raised to a performance art. “I think we bent over backwards.”
Maybe. What other conversations might California Republicans be having? Well, said Sundheim, a new tone might bring more people to the GOP. The state Republican party “was a narrow ideological organization – that’s not what this process is all about” which could attract minorities and women. Women? So perhaps abortion isn’t the litmus test it once was for Republicans? Sure, says Sundheim. “I think that’s one of the things you can discuss.”

Share  Posted by Chris Nolan at 3:32 PM | Permalink

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