News Column

GOP Searches for Relevance in Changing California

Nov. 18, 2012

Ben van der Meer

california voting, GOP, republican, demographics

Nov. 18--After losing a seemingly winnable election for the presidency on Nov. 6, and being reduced to near irrelevance in California in the same election, area Republicans are pondering how to get the party back on the winning side.

Both people active in local Republican politics and observing from outside said they see a need for changes, especially in the face of changing demographics.

"One thing, for sure, is we've got to do a better job of reaching Hispanics," said Paul Myers, an Olivehurst resident and member of the Yuba County Republican Central Committee. "We've never really done that."

Myers and others said it's a natural fit for the party, both because their numbers make up an increasing part of the electorate and because many Latinos are conservative on social issues such as abortion and gay marriage.

To do so, though, requires changing the Republican party's rhetoric on immigration, said Tony Carlos, a Marysville attorney and former Sutter County deputy district attorney. The Dream Act, proposed federal legislation to give illegal immigrants who came to the US as children a way to become citizens, should be embraced by the party, he said.

"Those kids should at least have a chance to stay," said Carlos, a Mexican-American who ran for Congress as a Republican this year.

Citing polls showing strong support among Americans in general, he said, "It's a popular idea, so it should be easy for Republicans to get behind it."

But outside observers said the problem is more complex.

To Charles Turner, a political science professor at California State University, Chico, the problem isn't so much what the party stands for as how its members sound when they're expressing it.

Two decades ago, party leaders often talked about family values, suggesting a pro-values, positive message, Turner said. As issues like gay marriage have become more accepted in recent years, he said, the party sounds more like it's against things than for them.

"As an example, definitely to Latino voters on social issues, they should have a lot of similarities," he said.

But when party leaders, such as defeated Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, refer to voters who supported President Barack Obama as "takers" who just want to live off others, it doesn't expand the party's appeal, Turner said.

Roberto Marquez, a Marysville attorney who is registered independent but votes Republican, agreed.

"The problem is public relations," he said. "They're not reaching the population in California that's rising in numbers and political clout."

Michael Paine, a member of the Yuba County Democratic Central Committee, said on the local level, he gets the sense Republicans don't include people from groups other than the chambers of commerce and real estate agents' associations.

"They've got to get out and mix more with a lot of people," he said. "Bring them into the clubs and organizations."

The party should also do more year-round registration efforts, instead of just in the months leading up to elections, Paine said.

Though both Yuba and Sutter counties have greater numbers of registered Republicans than any other party, they're the exception in blue California.

According to the mid-October report from the California Secretary of State's office, fewer than one in three registered voters in the state -- 29.3 percent -- is a Republican, compared to 43.6 percent registered Democrats, and the fastest growing registration, no party preference, with 20.9 percent.

But Carlos, for one, said he believes California isn't a lost cause for his party. On statewide ballot measures in recent years, voters have turned down legalizing gay marriage and marijuana, and backed keeping the death penalty.

But GOP leadership in the state isn't giving the party the direction it needs, he added.

If growing demographic diversity doesn't bode well for the Republicans' future, another possible future outcome might. Democrats controlling almost all portions of state government, and both the presidency and the US Senate at the federal level, means the spotlight's on them to perform.

If Obama's leadership harms the economy, Myers said, voters will be ready to embrace the Republican way of thinking again.

"I always think Democrats and liberals can't help themselves," he said.


(c)2012 the Appeal-Democrat (Marysville, Calif.)

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