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Neel Kahskari: A Candidate Without A Party

Doug Lasken

Of course, Neel Kashkari, the GOP candidate for California governor against incumbent Jerry Brown in the November election, is a member of the Republican party and is officially endorsed by it. When I say that he is a candidate without a party, I mean that he is not backed by his party in a way that could promote his victory.

Kashkari, who trailed Brown by 35 points in the June 3 primary, is not expected by anyone to win, and that includes his own party leadership, as I prove below. He is playing the time honored tradition of candidate expected to lose, for the sake of giving his party some representation. My point is that what the state party needs now is a GOP candidate to win a statewide office, not just run a show-campaign designed to manage the party as a shadow of its former self. A losing candidate will not give California what it needs: a viable opposition party.

Kashkari did take some advice I offered in Flashreport concerning the Vergara vs. State of Cal. decision, in which Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu ruled that five statutes in the California Education Code regarding teacher tenure, seniority and dismissal violate the equal protection clause of the state’s Constitution, resulting in grossly ineffective teachers obtaining and retaining employment. In my FlashReport piece I urged Kashkari to support the ruling and issue a public challenge to Brown to debate Vergara, knowing that Brown, beholden to teachers unions, would be unable to respond. In early July, Kashkari stood in front of the American Federation of Teachers convention in Los Angeles and issued his challenge. Per SFGate, Kashkari called it “…’unconscionable’ that the governor has been silent on a recent court decision finding California’s teacher tenure system to be unconstitutional,” later charging that “…the California courts rule that the educational system is violating the rights of poor minority kids, and the California governor doesn’t speak out….”

As I predicted in my Flashreport piece, after almost two weeks Brown has said nothing in response. So far so good. But how about the results? Is there a quick jump in Kashkari’s poll numbers? There is not- in fact the most recent July Field poll shows Brown remaining at 54% approval, virtually unchanged from the June 3 primary.

The main problem is that the press is not interested in Brown’s refusal to respond to Kashkari’s Vergara challenge, so there are no headlines or even back-page stories about it. Why doesn’t the media care? Why has Kashkari’s AFT press conference, as smart as it was, fallen into a black hole along with his other smart moves, such as his marching in San Diego’s LGBT Pride Parade on Saturday, July 19. Kashkari is not a social conservative, and that-in itself a proven vote getter- should be big news, understood by as much of the electorate as possible. But it’s now Monday the 21st, and there has been not one mention of the gay pride parade in either the L.A. Times or L.A. Daily News, Sunday or Monday editions. A quick google-check of news stories reveals that only the San Diego Tribune mentioned Kashkari’s participation in the parade, in one brief sentence.

Why can’t Kashkari get his messages out? Why, if I walked into the Denny’s by my house this morning and interviewed all the customers who are registered voters, I’d be lucky to find one person who had any idea who Kashkari is and what he represents. Why is that the case, when Kaskari clearly knows a lot about campaigns?

The reason is that Kashkari has not taken the other piece of advice, the most important piece, that I offered in FlashReport, that he secure the party’s backing and support for his campaign. As noted, I am not talking about pro-forma endorsements from the state or national party. I’m talking about real support, the kind of support that the Democratic party gave to Bill Clinton when, towards the end of the Reagan administration, it created the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) which, to avoid what many saw as the approaching end of the Democratic Party, moved the party to the right, toward welfare reform and fiscal deregulation. Key to DLC credibility were high profile conflicts with prominent progressive Democrats, like Jesse Jackson, who called the DLC, “Democrats for the Leisure Class.” The DLC ensured Clinton’s election and ascendency, and its formula for success at the polling booth supported Obama as well.

How could the GOP pull off a similar feat? The Democrats before Clinton were suffering from a public perception that they leaned too far to the left. Today’s GOP suffers from the perception that it leans too far to the right, particularly regarding conservative social positions such as those that oppose, in extreme terms, gay marriage, abortion and gun control. These conservative positions are proven electoral losers, as a recent Politico poll shows:

1. Gun control: 71% of Republicans support stricter checks on gun purchasers

2. Abortion: “Large majorities (70 percent adults, 79 percent likely voters) say the government should not interfere with a woman’s access to abortion. This view is held by majorities across parties, regions and demographic groups.”

3. Gay marriage: Support for same-sex marriage “…has increased 15 points among mainline Protestants since May [2013] (55 percent to 70 percent), and this support “…comes from a majority of those age 55 and older (55 percent) [who] are also in favor for the first time.”

When Kashkari first announced his candidacy in January, 2014, he surprised many, and put himself on the political map, by recognizing the significance of the figures above and coming out in favor of gay marriage, some abortion rights, and gun control. What did the state GOP say or do in response? It said and did nothing, because it fretted about the 30% of Tea Party Republicans who oppose Kashkari’s social positions. Just as Mitt Romney was advised to stay quiet about Rick Santorum’s socially conservative positions (a disastrous decision, and the most important mistake leading to Romney’s defeat), the party said nothing, either about the disconnect between Kashkari’s positions and the socially conservative party platform, or about the party leadership’s view of those social positions.

With this Romney redux, why should anyone be surprised when incremental improvements in Kashkari’s coverage, such as after his Vergara challenge to Brown or the LGBT Pride Parade, quickly evaporate, leaving Brown’s lead untouched? Things would have been different if the party had taken a forceful stand distancing itself from socially conservative positions, as the Democrats did with progressive positions via the DLC. Such a move would have given Kashkari’s candidacy immediate and sustained meaning, and many tens of thousands of votes.

It’s unlikely that the party will make any such change before the November election, but 2016 is another matter. It’s a simple enough fact: either the GOP, both state and national, takes a stand and finally defines itself as either socially conservative or not, or the spectacle of another GOP candidate for president wasting the country’s time with a phony candidacy will consign the GOP to permanent mothball status. I do not look forward to such an outcome. Better to fix the party while we can.

Doug Lasken is a retired LA Unified teacher, recently returned to coach debate, a freelancer and education consultant. Read his blog athttp://laskenlog.blogspot.com/ and write him at doug.lasken@gmail.com.