By Nick Cahill
SACRAMENTO – The California Republican Party’s stock is at an all-time low. A Republican hasn’t won a statewide race since Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2006, and there are now more Californians registered with no party preference than as Republican.
After a miserable midterm election this past November – the GOP lost U.S. House seats hand over fist in the Central Valley, Orange and San Diego counties – the party is a nonfactor at the state level and owns just seven of 53 Congressional seats.
With an end goal of pulling voter registration numbers out of the dumps and restoring glory to a state party that sent Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan to the Oval Office, Schwarzenegger and a group of moderate Republicans are calling for a GOP makeover.
“I want to see a great, strong Republican Party in California that can stand up to the Democratic Party,” Schwarzenegger said Tuesday in Sacramento. “Democrats have absolute control of everything; they don’t even have to ask the Republicans anymore for their opinion.”
The former governor and a collection of Californians are urging the state GOP to detract from President Trump’s playbook and get involved in issues the party has more or less abandoned: immigration, climate change and housing.
Speaking at an event put on by a group called New Way California, which is being led by Assemblyman Chad Mayes of Southern California, Schwarzenegger and other state Republicans including prominent pastor and civil rights activist Samuel Rodriguez outlined a path for bringing more Latinos into the state party.
“A new way can easily engage this wonderful, flourishing demographic called the Latino California electorate,” Rodriguez said. “All you have to do is speak the language of the community and it is faith, it’s entrepreneurship, it’s small businesses and it’s educational equality.”
Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, added Republicans need to recognize that race issues still exist in California and should advocate for immigration reform.
The first signs of change emerged last month as delegates overwhelmingly rejected a boisterous, pro-Trump white candidate in favor of a young Latina as state party chair. Jessica Patterson, a millennial from Los Angeles who worked for Schwarzenegger and is aligned with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., is now the California GOP’s first female leader.
The only Republican currently leading a major California city cited the need for a party “intervention” and said that its leaders can’t try to imitate the national wing. San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer believes the party needs to modernize and avoid Trump-like rhetoric.
“This won’t be easy with Washington shaking up the political world on a daily basis, and that’s why the California Republican Party must not be a carbon copy of the national GOP,” Faulconer said to light applause.
Faulconer says one area Republicans can try to lead on is housing, as for decades the Legislature has failed to improve a glaring housing crisis. As mayor, he’s fought to remove housing development hurdles like building height restrictions and parking requirements. He says triggering a housing boom is also the best way to fighting climate change.
“The more housing that we build near job centers, the fewer tailpipes will be on the road and the healthier our climate and our pocketbooks will be,” Faulconer said.
But Faulconer was one of the only speakers at the event to outline a clear strategy to fixing some of California’s woes. Other participants, including a panel of former and current lawmakers, spent most of their time blasting the “hyper-partisan” nature of state politics.
If New Way is going to spur a Republican transformation before the 2020 election, it will need to first figure out how to reach a larger audience: There were plenty of empty seats at Tuesday’s event, with less than 100 people in attendance. It will have to tighten its agenda and not just wail about the Democrats’ stranglehold over the Golden State.
Fortunately for the fledgling group, it can always look to the “Governator” for advice.
“I think there are so many issues that Republicans can be out there talking about and fighting for. And you know, the press will then follow if you really have a great message and if you really study your communication and how to get it across to the press and people,” Schwarzenegger said.