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Doug Gamble- Contributor

Doug Gamble is a former writer for President Ronald Reagan and resides in Carmel. [go to Gamble index]

Arnold Rules, California GOP Stalls
Is the state GOP any better off?
[Doug Gamble] 12/8/04

While the State of the State address Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger delivers in January will undoubtedly overflow with his trademark optimism and gung-ho spirit, the state of the California Republican Party is not as rosy.

The party enters 2005 coming off a humiliating defeat in the U.S. Senate race, being denied the gain of so much as a single seat in the Legislature and facing the search for a sacrificial lamb to run against U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein in 2006.

Although a nice guy and dedicated public servant, former California Secretary of State Bill Jones fell far short of seriously challenging incumbent Senator Barbara Boxer. The fault may lie as much with the party itself as with Jones.

The party establishment anointed him in the primary in the apparent belief that last year’s recall election had marked a sea change in state politics, shifting voter allegiance to the Republicans. Overlooked was the fact the election was an aberration and Schwarzenegger was elected as a moderate. A moderate candidate such as former U.S. Treasurer Rosario Marin -- a Jones primary opponent -- would have been a more competitive and compelling Boxer opponent.

National Republicans also had it wrong, with the head of the Republican Senate fund-raising committee, Virginia Senator George Allen, giving Jones a chance to beat Boxer because, “It’s a whole new terrain there, a whole new ballgame, with Governor Schwarzenegger.”

As for the governor, having endorsed Jones in the primary but later realizing he was going down to defeat, Schwarzenegger refused to make any public appearances with him during the campaign. Talk about love ‘em and leave ‘em.

What Schwarzenegger did do was travel the state in support of select Assembly and Senate candidates, hoping his appeal and popularity would lead to GOP gains in Sacramento. He bombed, another indication that despite the result of the recall election California remains a fundamentally Democratic state.

Any lingering doubts about this should be erased when Feinstein romps to reelection in two years. At the moment, with the Republicans having zero statewide officeholders besides Schwarzenegger, one would be hard pressed to name a potential rival to the woman who is easily California’s most respected politician.

One dream scenario has Schwarzenegger taking a pass on reelection in favor of a race against Feinstein, but this is highly unlikely. In the event the Constitution is changed to allow the 2008 presidential run he craves, he would not want to risk a defeat that would tarnish his political record.

High on Schwarzenegger’s agenda is a likely push for a special election next year that would play to his strength on ballot measures and would give him more muscle with the Legislature. While his campaigning for individual candidates laid an egg, voters have been more willing to follow him on certain initiatives.

Measures Schwarzenegger would champion would likely include outside judges drawing congressional and legislative district lines instead of the Legislature, mandatory spending limits and a renewed attempt to dilute the power of labor money in elections. Faced with a Democratic-controlled Legislature, and considering his skill in selling most Californians on broad concepts, “government by ballot initiative” is worth a try.

With Schwarzenegger in the executive suite, California Republicans are better off now than they were two years ago. But it’s because of a cult of personality and not any rightward shift. The GOP still has a long way to go to add more red to the Golden State. CRO

California-based Doug Gamble contributed speech material to Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush, and writes a twice-monthly column for the Orange County Register and

Copyright 2004 Doug Gamble




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