California’s Republican Party met in Sacramento last weekend for what the news media assured us would be a wake. One newspaper wrote, “A punch-drunk GOP arrives for its convention and our writer jumps down the Grand Old rabbit hole to see if ‘Reagan Nation’ can rise from the ashes.”
Rather than hanging crepe, the 1,000 delegates were fired with energy despite losses in November of Congressional and State Legislature seats. In fact, for the first time in many decades, the Democrats have super majorities in both houses of the legislature.
Never mind, the delegates were constantly reminded by candidates for the party’s statewide leadership. From now on the emphasis is on rebuilding from the grassroots up. It wasn’t said in so many words, but the idea was to ditch the moniker Grand Old Party and replace it with “Grand Opportunity Party,” meaning opportunities to help members win elective office and opportunities to replace the state’s stifling tax and regulatory systems with ones aimed at economic growth.
To underscore one of these points, the convention schedule showcased a number of elected minority officials. Harmeet Dhillon, a dynamic woman lawyer born in India, campaigned successfully for party vice chairman on her background of heading a reborn Republican Party in, of all places, San Francisco and running twice for office there.
In the first session, Ruben Barrales, president of a new Hispanic Republican organization, Grow Elect, emphasized the group’s slogan, “Electing Republican Latinos one office at a time.” To prove the point, its website lists 21 such elected officials in local offices up and down the state. The next afternoon, dedicated to break-out sessions, had a Standing Room Only crowd at Grow Elect’s event which featured a panel of elected Republican Latinos telling how they won office.
Michelle Park Steel, wife of Republican National Committeeman Shawn Steel, and herself an elected member of the state Board of Equalization, spoke to the convention about the importance of electing Asian Americans to public office (she was born in South Korea).
The changing demographics of the population of California was not lost on any delegates. The convention came shortly after new reports that Hispanics had become the largest single ethnic segment of the state’s population.
Jim Brulte, a veteran of the state legislature, now in private business, led both the Assembly and Senate Republican caucuses during his Sacramento years, won the state chairmanship in a landslide. He is a straight-forward speaker, clear in his resolve to make the state apparatus work for local and regional committees and candidates, and has a reputation for getting done what he sets out to do.
Will all this result in Republican gains in what has become a predictably blue state? Time will tell, but there is plenty of it before the November 2014 election.