Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger addresses the California Republican Party convention in Sacramento last February in this NWN video. Then he gave a survive-the-moment speech. Tonight he addresses the party convention in Indian Wells.
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger speaks tonight at the convention of the troubled California Republican Party in Indian Wells. Will he be more candid about the party’s declining fortunes tonight than he was at the Sacramento convention last February?
Seven months ago, when Schwarzenegger addressed a ballroom full of activists at the hotel he lives in when he’s in the Capitol, the former action superstar’s goal seemed to be to get in and get out as painlessly as possible. It was five weeks after his post-partisan second Inaugural Address, which was hailed nationally and internationally but hated by the hyperpartisan types who narrowly took control of the state party apparatus at the Sacramento convention.
A lot’s happened since then.
The hyperpartisans, centered around a few blogs whose readers have proved, let’s say, remarkably reticent, i.e., there are virtually no comments — quite curious for political activists — and a small faction of state senators from gerrymandered districts, have provided a steady drumbeat of attacks on Schwarzenegger’s popular centrist agenda. This, despite the fact that, as I’ve reported for the past year, polls consistently show Schwarzenegger’s policies on the infrastructure, the environment, health care, minimum wage, and so forth to be popular with most actual Republican voters. But if you think, as the hyperpartisans do, that the minimum wage is socialism and that the climate isn’t changing, then you don’t worry about such things.
Meanwhile, the state party, as NWN revealed, has run up a huge operating deficit since February. State party chairman Ron Nehring, a longtime employee and consultant for controversial Beltway conservative power broker Grover Norquist, has had a bigger foreign travel itinerary than the globe-trotting Schwarzenegger, also revealed here. And in addition to harboring Schwarzenegger’s hardcore critics, the party’s executive board voted to exclude independent voters from participating in next February’s presidential primary. The Democrats, needless to say, are happy to have this most important new group of voters — fastest growing in the state — participate in their primary.
The other, much more dramatic development, was the lengthy state budget stall engineered by state Senator Tom McClintock, a four-time loser for statewide office, and several others. In the turbulent politics of the minority party caucus in the state Senate, a small group, which for months refused to say which budget cuts it wanted — as a matter of purported strategy — held up the state budget for a month. During that time, most legislators were out of town, as the Assembly, having passed a bipartisan budget, took its summer recess. While they were gone, the right-wing Republican holdouts fancied themselves in the fashion of the recent hit movie 300, as the Spartans who held the line against the Persian hordes.
Actually, however, as soon as the “hordes” returned, these Spartans folded. When the Democrats returned a few weeks ago, the budget stall quickly ended, with the holdouts getting the same deal they could have had a month earlier.
There’s much for Schwarzenegger to deal with, if he is so inclined. As there has been for some time. It was clear when he was elected in the 2003 recall election that California had both an ultra-government faction and an anti-government faction, and that both were out of control. The former is harbored in the Democratic Party, of course, and the latter in the Republican Party, an institution badly in need of becoming acquainted with the 21st century. The curious events of this year make that assessment even more timely.
So Schwarzenegger may not be repeating his experience of the February convention.
There, five weeks after his “post-partisan” second inaugural address, the former action superstar was politely if tepidly received by the mostly conservative activists and politicians attending the dinner honoring outgoing state party chairman Duf Sundheim, the effective moderately conservative Republican Silicon Valley lawyer. The lukewarm response from a crowd chock full of hyperpartisans was no surprise because Schwarzenegger actually gave the audience relatively little partisan red meat.
Schwarzenegger then called himself “a proud Republican” in the vein of being “A proud member of the party of Abraham Lincoln and the values of everyone having an equal opportunity to reach the American dream. A proud member of the party of Teddy Roosevelt and the values of protecting the environment and our economy. And a proud member of the party of Ronald Reagan and the values of individual responsibility and personal freedom.”
The many times Mr. Universe ran through what he sees as the accomplishments of his administration — a growing economy, greatly improved budget situation, keeping a lid on taxes. And his massive infrastructure bonds plan worked out with Democratic legislative leaders that passed last November after drawing continual fire from the hyperpartisan right. But it was only when he talked about his plan to help alleviate the prison overcrowding crisis by sending some prisoners out of state that he brought the crowd roaring to life.
Intriguingly, and to his credit, Schwarzenegger then segued into a pitch for his comprehensive health care plan, which includes employer mandates to offer health insurance or pay into an insurance pool. Which, however, Schwarzenegger didn’t mention directly, instead pledging to bring down what he calls the “hidden tax” of unreimbursed care to the uninsured. He reminded the audience that over 70% of Californians said they favored his approach in a recent poll, along with a big majority of Republicans. Then he went into the environment, discussing his fight against greenhouse gas emissions and his pleasure about winning a half billion dollar grant from BP, the former British Petroleum, to establish the first biofuels and alternative fuels research institute at the University of California at Berkeley. To be sure, not the normal fare for these conventions.
Schwarzenegger accomplished his objective. He survived. There were no boos, no catcalls, no demonstrations, and not much news.
But to survive is not to lead, and this governor has done a mostly good job of leading on other fronts.
If the California Republican Party apparatus is not ready for the 21st century, perhaps it is ready for the 20th century. The hyperpartisans constantly cite Ronald Reagan, without really understanding the history of Ronald Reagan. As I confirmed when my column on Ronald Reagan’s birthday this year won the “Golden Pen Award” on the right-wing Flash Report. Perhaps they just liked the Reagan videos I ran on NWN.
Here is something Reagan, then the new and “surprisingly” pragmatic governor of California, said to a party group 40 years ago, speaking of the dangers of hyperpartisanship in attempting to appeal to the voters: “Because this is the great common denominator – this dedication to the belief in man’s aspirations as an individual – we cannot offer them a narrow sectarian party in which all must swear allegiance to prescribed commandments. Such a party can be highly disciplined, but it does not win elections. This kind of party soon disappears in a blaze of glorious defeat, and it never puts into practice its basic tenets, no matter how noble they may be.”
The blaze of glorious defeat, no matter how actually inglorious, as in the case of the state budget stall — which resulted in yet another victory over the right-wing by its bete noire, Jerry Brown — is what lights the path ahead for the hyperpartisans. Since California needs two credible political parties in order to succeed, Schwarzenegger and others need to bring this party back from the brink.
Your posts are welcome in the Forum.