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Kevin Dayton

How to Rebuild the California Republican Party After the 2012 (Yes, 2012) Presidential Election

In the three months following the November 2012 presidential general election, I compiled and summarized the published advice from party leaders, thinkers, and grassroots activists about how to reverse what was perceived at the time as an increasing irrelevant and ineffective California Republican Party.

Now it’s two weeks before the November 2016 presidential general election. Let’s review that four-year old advice and see who was on the right track.

ADVICE TO THE CALIFORNIA REPUBLICAN PARTY

1. Carl DeMaio: former think tank director and San Diego City Councilmember who narrowly lost the November 2012 race for Mayor of San Diego despite a horrible election night for California Republicans. He ran for Congress in 2014 against Democrat incumbent Scott Peters and again came up just short with 48.4% of the vote. He is now a radio talk show host on KOGO.

The November 16, 2012 Orange County Register published DeMaio’s opinion piece Building ‘New’ Republican Party in California. He proposed a five-point strategy:

  1. Become the party of reform (focus on fiscal responsibility)
  2. Commit to making government work again (better performance of existing programs)
  3. Move beyond “no” and offer real solutions (offer credible alternatives for governance)
  4. Become a party of inclusion (specifically address diverse groups beyond the typical older white voter base)
  5. Court the next generation (adopt to new methods of communication)

2. Matt Rexroad: he was and remains a Yolo County Supervisor and professional political consultant.

The December 27, 2012 Sacramento Bee published Rexroad’s opinion piece Reform GOP by Showing It Cares about People. He focused on three ideas: acknowledging the attraction but rejecting the viability of pure libertarian philosophy, finding qualified candidates to speak on issues, and focusing on the causes and solutions to poverty from a distinctive Republican approach.

Rexroad did not see the Libertarian Party as a viable alternative for Californians interested in issues of individual liberty and freedom, because modern society wants a government that provides some security and protection from disasters, epidemics, and monopolies in commerce. He suggested the Republican Party recruit people who are “capable of actual governance” to present a fact-based, experience-based, broadly-appealing dissenting view to the Democratic Party’s idea of government. These “qualified representatives” would be ready to lead the state when voters are finally ready for an alternative kind of governance.

Rexroad cited Jack Kemp’s focus on the causes of poverty as a model for California Republicans to consider. Republicans can propose strategies to reduce poverty based on self-sufficiency, personal responsibility and government efficiency, as opposed to the Democrat strategies that tend to be based on government dependency. Such an approach would “give Republicans the opportunity to break the stereotype that they are only for the rich.” It would also transcend “any specific language group, ethnicity, country of origin, sexual orientation or gender…It is just about people, and all people deserve more than they are currently getting from their government.”

3. Devin Nunes – he was and remains a Congressman from the San Joaquin Valley. He’s a Portuguese-American dairy farmer.

Nunes had his recommendations in A Reform Agenda, a Path Forward for California Republicans, posted on the web on December 6, 2012 as a commentary in Eureka, a publication of the Advancing a Free Society project of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.

Nunes contended that the California Republican Party (and to some extent the national Republican Party) has failed to effectively communicate a principled, yet specific “path to prosperity” focused on individual liberty. This creates a vacuum that allows influential opponents of the Republican Party to portray Republicans in negative terms while ignoring the shortcomings of the Democratic Party (such as its failure to advance immigration reform). Nunes also noted two practical problems for Republicans: the ability of public employee unions to spend huge amounts of money on politics, and the willingness of the American people to support government programs and payments without considering the cost.

Here was Nunes’ suggested message for Republicans:

Republicans believe in the supremacy of individuals, their families, and their local communities – not the government. The government should not be revered, nor should it be expected to guarantee our happiness – it is a necessary evil that should exert authority over limited realms, especially national defense and international trade, as specified in the Constitution. Republicans oppose the centralization of power. Instead, Republicans support a republic in which power is devolved to the most local level possible. To the greatest extent, federal officials should allow states to conduct their own affairs, while both state and federal leaders should allow counties, cities, school boards, and town councils to run their own communities as they see fit.

Local control and fiscal responsibility are necessary to avoid ruinous debt on future generations. This debt is immoral and will devastate “family values.”

Nunes listed some specific issues for California Republicans to pursue on the federal and state levels. He also asserted that technological change requires the Republican Party to turn away from TV and radio advertising as the focus of its campaigns and instead develop localized grassroots structures.

4. Jeff Gorell – then a member of the California State Assembly, 44th District (includes cities of Thousand Oaks, Camarillo, Oxnard). In 2014 he ran for Congress against incumbent Democrat Julia Brownley but lost with 48.7% of the vote. In 2015 he was appointed by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti (a Democrat) as Deputy Mayor of Los Angeles for Homeland Security and Public Safety.

The January 6, 2013 Sacramento Bee published Gorell’s opinion piece GOP Still Relevant to California’s Fiscal Future. Gorell wrote that Republicans in the California State Legislature can play an important role in making sure that taxpayer money (including the new Proposition 30 tax increases) are spent (1) as voters intended; (2) efficiently; and (3) effectively. He pointed out that Democrats are proposing many additional tax increases, and therefore Republicans “must ensure that families, students and small businesses understand and appreciate the real-world impacts of Sacramento’s tax ideas.” He wanted Republicans to promote a “rainy-day fund” if budget surpluses develop, so that Democrats won’t simply increase the size of government. And he encouraged Republicans to look for opportunities to work with Governor Jerry Brown and moderate Democrats in the legislature.

5. Rocky Chavez – he was then a newly-elected Assemblyman and former Oceanside City Council member. He remains a member of the California State Assembly. He ran for U.S. Senate in 2016 but withdrew from the race in February.

In his January 11, 2013 op-ed Reaching Out to Latino Voters through Education in La Prensa San Diego, Chavez expressed his concern about polling that indicates Latino voters feel that “Republicans do not respect or value the needs and interests of the Hispanic community.” He asserted that “education reform is the best way for the Republican Party to reach out to California’s Latino community.” Based on his experience in education, Chavez believed that “Latino parents want their children to have access to good schools and quality teachers. They believe they should be able to choose where their children attend school, and they believe no one should be stuck in a low performing school just because of where they live…Latino families felt that transfers between school districts should be easier to obtain, and there should be greater access to public charter schools.” Chavez claimed that “instead of actively campaigning on these issues, the Republican Party tends to avoid them,” even though the Republican Party has an ideological and historical foundation of educational choice and individual opportunities.

6. Ron Nehring – chairman of the California Republican Party from 2007 to 2010, chairman of the San Diego County Republican Party from 2001 to 2007, and a former board member of the Grossmont Union High School District. He ran for Lieutenant Governor in 2014 and won 42.8% of the vote against incumbent Gavin Newsom. He was a leader in the Ted Cruz presidential primary campaign in 2016.

In his November 8, 2012 blog post Four Areas For GOP Growth: Latinos, Organization, Training, Preparation (no longer available on the web), Nehring made the following observations:

  1. Republicans need to better understand and discuss conditions in the home countries of immigrants. They need to support policies that can help improve conditions there, such as trade and fighting drugs. Immigrant groups aren’t fooled by trite and boring “outreach” programs with no substance.
  2. Republicans need to provide better training for their candidates in order to avoid destructive gaffes.
  3. Republicans need to constantly maintain basic, data-oriented local campaign infrastructure and continually raise and spend money, instead of raising and spending big bursts of money just before elections and then throwing valuable campaign data into the trash.
  4. Republicans need to engage in direct voter contact instead of relying on phone banks.

7. Tom Del Beccaro – at the time he was outgoing chairman of the California Republican Party (2010-2013). He ran for U.S. Senate in 2016 and received 4.3% in the nonpartisan blanket primary.

Not running for re-election as party chairman, Del Beccaro proposed a couple of specific strategies for the California Republican Party to adopt. In his December 10, 2012 Forbes magazine blog post California Republicans Need To Cooperate With Latinos On Border Issues, Del Beccaro wrote that Latinos see the Republican Party as defined by immigration positions. He suggested “actually sitting down with Latino leaders in America, listening to their concerns and working out a solution to the issue” of “border violence,” that is, a solution that meets Latinos’ concerns for safety and the Nation’s concerns for border security.” He also suggested the following strategy in a November 28, 2012 Forbes magazine blog post Forget the Whining, Here’s a Plan for Republicans to Seize the Agenda:

Congressional Republicans should pick out significant government programs that are not working…Then they should lay out specific cost savings from those failed programs. For the next two years, the Republicans should hold a monthly press conference on the Capitol steps wherein they explain:

    1. The original purpose of the Non-working Program
    2. Who was originally supposed to have benefited from the Non-working Program
    3. The GOP’s Reformed Program
    4. Why the Reformed Program is better for the Nation
    5. How much the Reformed Program will save taxpayers
    6. How many teachers per year could be saved if Democrats would join Republicans in saving taxpayers this money

Republicans should then dare the President and Senate Democrats to reject these savings. Republicans should keep the pressure on the Democrats through the alternative Media including websites and social networking where younger voters live.

8. George “Duf” Sundheim – at the time, best-known as a former chairman of the California Republican Party (2003-2007). He ran for U.S. Senate in 2016 and received 7.8% in the nonpartisan blanket primary.

Sundheim had his recommendations in Looking For New Ways To Lead, Under A Bolder GOP Banner, posted on the web on December 4, 2012 as a commentary in Eureka, a publication of the Advancing a Free Society project of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.

Sundheim saw opportunities for the California Republican Party because of voters’ widespread dissatisfaction with education and debt. He recommended broadening the Republican message beyond the traditional nuclear family. He asserted that Republicans have a compelling message for Latinos concerning education (charter school alternatives) and family-owned small business, but it instead focuses on an aggressive, harsh message against Latino illegal immigrants. He also wrote that younger voters are not that interested in criticizing homosexuals and illegal immigrants – they care more about the skyrocketing cost of education and the debt burden that governments are accumulating to be paid off by future generations.

9. Chuck Bell – longtime counsel to the California Republican Party.

Bell had his recommendations in Prescriptions for California Republicans, posted on the web on December 3, 2012 as a commentary in Eureka, a publication of the Advancing a Free Society project of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. Here were his recommendations:

  1. Politically Savvy Leadership: Republicans need to pick a respected and politically savvy leader who brings credibility to the state party, so that significant Republican donors and business interests will provide funding for party operations.
  2. New Technologies to Revitalize the Base: To develop a more-effective turnout operation, the state GOP needs to engage its younger, tech-savvy generation to help build effective political networking through social media and the internet and “help train its elders how to use these tools effectively.”
  3. Bring the Message to Republican Voters in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area: These voters never hear the state and local message of Republicans anymore (as there are virtually no Republican elected officials in Congress or in the state legislature from these areas). The State GOP needs to team up with local GOP groups (such as the Los Angeles Lincoln Club and the Lincoln Club of Northern California) to focus on electing promising Republicans to local non-partisan offices and supporting ballot measures such as San Jose’s successful June 2012 pension reform measure.
  4. Thinking Strategically, More Nimbly: Two bad strategic decisions may have been most responsible for the crushing defeat of California Republicans at the polls in November: not taking advantage of the voters’ May 2009 rejection of tax increases to make a deal, and allowing Proposition 32 on the November 2012 ballot.
  5. Engaging with California’s Latino and Asian Communities: Use the Republican group Grow Elect as a model to help elect Latino Republicans to non-partisan local offices. Focus on education reforms important to Latinos. Adopt the immigration reforms supported by some Texas Republicans: temporary, renewable visas to expand the H-1B program for foreigners to fill high tech job openings and for agricultural workers and immigrants in other fields where there is a certified need for workers. Encourage a path to citizenship with the DREAM Act and for foreign nationals who serve in the military.

10. Jon Fleischman – publisher of www.FlashReport.org

On January 8, 2013, Jon Fleischman posted his commentary Jim Brulte for Chairman of the California Republican Party on his www.FlashReport.org web site. Fleischman wrote that Brulte, a former Republican leader of the California State Assembly and Senate, is a “solid conservative,” a “stalwart Republican” and has “conservative credentials” – including a voting record – on positions concerning “taxation and regulation, freedom and liberty, the sanctity of human life, or the importance of the traditional family.” Fleischman noted that Brulte has a “track record as a smart politico with a knack for winning elections,” and that Brulte does not believe “Republicans are losing market-share in California because of these policy positions, but rather how we communicate our positions, and of course how we engage in the science of politics.” Fleischman also vouched (from personal experience) for Brulte’s character.

Fleischman also listed some of the challenges for the California Republican Party:

  1. Democrats get an endless fountain of campaign funds, courtesy of public employee unions.
  2. The number of taxpayers is shrinking while the number supported by government grows.
  3. California’s growing “ethnic communities” are not inclined to vote Republican.
  4. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger compromised the Republican image with his support for tax increases, more regulation, and growth of state government.
  5. The California Republican Party has been dysfunctional for many years, with internal problems related to divergent interests of chairmen and distrust between major donors and grassroots activist leaders.
  6. While “Vast sums of money” have flowed through the California Republican Party for the purposes of trying to win elections, that money has not been used to build a permanent campaign structure (as developed by the Democrats, unions, and the Obama presidential campaign).

11. David Salaverry – was a grassroots activist from the San Francisco Bay Area and a small business owner (cabinetry), a redistricting activist, and founder of California Conservative Action Group. He ran for San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 2014 and received 9.2% of the vote. He now appears to be a “progressive” Democrat working to recall San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee.

In his November 20, 2012 Fox & Hounds article Remedies for the CA Republican Party, Salaverry made five recommendations:

  1. Elect a smart, capable, dedicated woman as state party chair.
  2. Make the party more appealing for Latinos by distancing itself from strong critics of illegal immigration, develop a conservative Hispanic talk radio, and get Latino Republicans elected to local office. Salaverry expanded on these ideas in his January 9, 2013 www.FlashReport.org op-ed “The CRP and Latinos, A General Staff Proposal” (no longer available).
  3. Discourage religious conservatives from using the Republican Party as a political agent to fight against the immoral secular culture.
  4. Turn away from policies focused on imprisonment of non-violent offenders, and try to reform unfairness in the judicial system that work against the poor and minorities.
  5. Speak to all young people about education and debt issues – don’t limit the message to the traditional stereotypical Young Republicans.

12. My Advice (Kevin Dayton – then and now President & CEO of Labor Issues Solutions, LLC)

On November 26, 2012, I posted A Proposed Strategic Plan for the California Republican Party in 2013-2014. In addition to recommending the excellent Joel Pollak article How Conservatives Can Win in Blue-State America: Lessons from South Africa’s Opposition, I classified my ideas into four categories:

  1. Promote a Specific Alternative Program of Governance: How Republicans Would Govern California Differently Than Democrats (this included a specific twelve-point agenda)
  2. Establish or Cultivate a California Intellectual Policy Center (Think Tank)
  3. Expand Republican Speech – Overhaul the Use of Web and Social Media
  4. Focus on Federalism: Local Government Should Serve as the Base of Opposition

Other Post-Presidential Election 2012 News Articles on California Republican Party Travails, Hopes, and Plans

Jim Brulte’s Path Now Clear to be California Republican Party Leader – San Francisco Chronicle (blog post by Joe Garofoli) – January 9, 2013

A Grim GOP Ponders Sparse Registration, Donors’ Doubts – Capitol Weekly – December 20, 2012

Jim Brulte’s Three Objectives as California Republican Party Chairman: Start a Party Fundraising Program, Encourage Local Grassroots Activism, Recruit Candidates Who Reflect the People of California – www.LaborIssuesSolutions.com – January 18, 2013 (my compilation of Jim Brulte’s plans to rebuild the California Republican Party)


Kevin Dayton is a public policy consultant and the President & CEO of Labor Issues Solutions, LLC. He has 20 years of sometimes-frustrating professional experience working on California state and local policy issues from a perspective of free markets, limited government, and fiscal responsibility. Follow him on Twitter at @DaytonPubPolicy.