Former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, together with hundreds of Californians who served in his administration, gathered tonight at the California Museum for the 20th anniversary of Schwarzenegger’s historic swearing in.
Gov. Schwarzenegger appointed me to the Board of Forestry and Fire Protection in 2005, earning me my invite to the event. In this column I’m sharing why I’m glad I attended, and some lessons from those times.
In a state which has been trending toward the Democrats since 1958, Schwarzenegger’s success owes to his pulling together a broad coalition that went well beyond the traditional Republican base. There wasn’t a choice – if he had not done so, there would never have been a Governor Schwarzenegger and Gray Davis would have gone on to serve out a full second term.
I was Chairman of the Republican Party of San Diego County, and President of our County Chairmen’s Association, when the 2003 recall campaign was launched. It was an electric campaign filled with intense drama over whether the recall campaign would secure the necessary signatures (thank you, Darrell Issa), then who would enter the race, Tom McClintock getting in, Schwarzenegger’s announcement on Leno, and even Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante’s bizarre candidacy.
Schwarzenegger was the last Republican to win a statewide election when he earned a second term in 2006. That’s 17 years ago. Since then, the Republican base in the state has steadily declined, a victim of a national Republican brand that plays well nationally, but continues to slide in west coast suburban communities like those which dominate in California.
The diverse coalition of Californians represented at Schwarznegger’s reunion is a reminder it will take a similar, big, broad coalition to win in the Golden State again.
I’ve worked in the conservative movement for over 30 years, and that’s reflected in my conservative outlook on every issue down the line. And if this was Idaho, that would be enough. But today’s times in today’s state demands a strategy, and an approach, which can unite Californians who neither socialize together, nor agree on everything, into a single cause.
No statewide Republican can emerge victorious short of such a strategy. That’s less a function of politics than of mathematics.
In his remarks, Schwarzenegger drove home a message I find particularly refreshing in today’s polarized environment: “There’s no such thing as a self-made man.” Recounting his time on the silver screen, the former governor drove home the point that in Hollywood, and in Sacramento, he was only able to succeed because of the hard work of others on the team.
It’s a message that stands in stark contrast to the personality driven politics of today where candidates and elected officials portray themselves as singularly indispensable. Such a team spirit will be essential for any Republican statewide to succeed again. There will be no such thing as a self-made Republican victory.
In fact, there is a deep well of Republican talent in the state. Much of that talent was in the room tonight, providing a reminder that for the right cause, Republicans can draw upon people of great skill, tenacity, creativity and character. In today’s polarized politics, the tendency is to find reasons to cancel others who would otherwise be available to help. But that’s not the path to victory. In a winning campaign, there has to be a place for everyone who wants a better future for our state.
It would be easy to fill this column with a rehash of Gov. Schwarzenegger’s setbacks and problems. That’s been done before, and nothing new would be learned. While there was plenty to disagree with, Schwarzenegger’s approach epitomized the advice of the German philosopher Goethe, who said, “Dream no small dreams, for they have no power to move the hearts men.”
Tonight’s Schwarzenegger reunion provides a glimpse of what was achieved, what is possible, and what it may take to get there again.
Ron Nehring served as Chairman of the California Republican Party from 2007 to 2011, and was the 2014 Republican nominee for Lt. Governor. To the annoyance of the Sierra Club, he was appointed by Gov. Schwarzenegger to the California Board of Forestry and Fire Protection in 2005 and served until 2006.