For California Republicans, very few litmus tests remain.
Issues like abortion and traditional marriage, even the second amendment and property rights, in many cases no longer define the credentials of many Republican politicians in this state; certainly they aren’t issues upon which GOP legislators have any influence.
In California, where it’s been over two decades since Republicans controlled even one house of the state legislature (and then only for a few months), and in more recent years where Democrats have controlled roughly 2/3 of both houses, those traditional “red meat” issues are often either off limits or a luxury for even the most socially-conservative politician.
Yet, most assuredly, the one issue that could easily be described as a remaining core litmus test for California Republicans is that of higher taxes.
The basic reason GOP activists throughout the state, even more moderate ones, feel so strongly about that one issue is because taxation is philosophically far more significant than simply the level of taxes we all pay.
More broadly, taxes are fundamentally about the size, scope and purpose of government.
Let’s put aside any Republican legislators that have somehow been co-opted by the opposition or blinded by where they think “playing the game” will get them.
It comes down to this. For a Republican legislator in California to support higher taxes means only one thing: He or she believes state government doesn’t already have enough money.
For even a typically anti-tax Republican to come to the conclusion that higher taxes are warranted “in this one instance” (whatever it is), means that he or she fundamentally believes the state is spending its existing resources on programs that are absolutely justified for government to administer, while doing so as efficiently and with as little waste as possible.
That is the simple crux of the recent overwhelming grassroots reaction to the Cap-and-Trade vote of a month ago; and more specifically to the continued presence of Chad Mayes as Assembly Republican Leader.
It isn’t just that Mayes voted for Cap-and-Trade while going against a majority of his caucus.
It also isn’t just that the handful of Republicans Mayes led in the effort made up enough votes to give Democrats a significant victory, while also providing an “out” to some Dems needing to “take a walk” on the issue.
Moreso, this is about the chosen Leader of the Republicans in the State Assembly fundamentally believing that government needs more money to carry out a huge program that will have significant negative economic impacts on the citizens of the state. It’s about his belief that government is operating so efficiently, there remains no choice but for those citizens to burden the additional costs of carrying out that program.
If any Republican Assemblymember is still trying to figure out what is driving this grassroots reaction, there it is.
In most cases, a party’s legislative leaders come and go, with hardly a notice by anyone other than those professionally reliant on a system which puts great stock in caring.
Yet, those caring about this matter — whether Chad Mayes now remains as leader — include everyday Republican activists who understand in their hearts the Party has little to offer in California anymore except for a continued struggle over the size and scope of government.
So, while the issue of taxes may be the remaining significant litmus test for Republicans in the State Legislature, connected directly to it is another one, a most important one.
It’s the test of whether Republican Members of the Assemby want to be represented by a leader that stands for their views on the size and scope of government … or not.
It’s not about whether they “like” Mayes personally, or whether he put them in a leadership position, or some other political reason.
This is about whether the Republican Party can even continue to exist in California if it no longer has the stomach to take a stance on the size and scope of government.
Taking such a stance depends on leaders that have the stomach for it.
Do Republican Assemblymembers have the stomach for it?
For Republican activists, how individual legislators answer that question in the next few days may very well be a litmus test.
Barry Jantz served on the La Mesa City Council from 1990 to 2006 and was District Chief of Staff to Assemblyman Jay La Suer from 2001 to 2004.