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Guest Contributor
Adam Balling

Adam Balling is a writer living in San Francisco.  He publishes the weblog Loyal Opposition.

Centrist Republicans Running In San Francisco

Fight Pelosi and Migden, Elect DePalma and Felder…

[Adam Balling] 11/2/04

In an election year when Democrats and Republicans are considered polarized, local GOP candidates in San Francisco represent a moderate alternative to partisan extremes. 

District 3 State Senate-hopeful Andrew Felder is a self-described Schwarzenegger Republican who is socially liberal and fiscally center-right.  Jennifer DePalma is a GOP libertarian running against House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi in Congressional District 8.  Both Republican candidates defy the puritanical party stereotypes and offer a competitive vision of politics to voters.

DePalma’s opponent Pelosi and Felder’s opponent Carole Midgen appear falsely centrist to local San Francisco Democrats who are accustomed to a more radical opposition.  In truth, Pelosi’s succession to the head of the party Congressional delegation represented a sharp nationwide move Left away from fourteen years of Rep. Dick Gephardt’s more moderate leadership.  Former State Assemblywoman Migden was part of the Democrats’ decades-long domination in the legislature.  Since 1966, the California party’s excesses have motivated voters to elect Capitol-taming Republican governors seven times from Reagan to the recall as the public attempts to check irresponsible progressive deficits.   Gerrymandered safe-districts have usually allowed the more partisan legislators to keep their seats in Sacramento and Washington.

To challenge these confining boundaries, the California Republicans have reinvigorated their drive to support centrists under new chairman Duf Sundheim.  After Arnold Schwarzenegger’s smashing 2003 gubernatorial victory, the GOP has launched a new wave of challenges all over the Bay Area.  “It did give me hope,” says DePalma.  “We can get the economic messages across to people.”  South Bay entrepreneur Steve Poizner may become the District 21 State Assemblyman, while East Bay businesswoman and activist Claudia Bermudez has given Oakland’s Rep. Barbara Lee unforeseen competition.  They and their San Francisco counterparts are bringing the Republicans back to Northern California, and moderates back into the party.

Attorney Jennifer DePalma bristles at the accusation that Republicans are all identical, much less that they are exclusively wrong.  She is pro-choice, favors legal gay marriage, and criticizes the USA PATRIOT Act as excessive.  Although the Pittsburgh native had an internship with Pennsylvania’s arch-conservative U.S. Senator Rick Santorum, DePalma always agreed more with her home state’s other Senator, the socially liberal Arlen Specter.  A free market advocate, she also regularly takes pro bono cases in her spare time.

She emphasizes her libertarian principles.  As an analyst at Washington’s Cato Institute, the movement’s foremost think-tank, DePalma investigated privacy issues and the information technology industry.  These issues, she argues, are not abstract for San Francisco voters who are struggling to rebuild after the dot-com bust.  The burden on recuperating investment and employment would be much greater if Bush’s tax cuts were repealed, as Nancy Pelosi wishes.  “She doesn’t have an understanding of how small businesses help our economy,” DePalma argues.

Incumbent Pelosi’s voting record is also one of preferring expensive federal services and opposing tax credits that allow citizens to choose the same benefits on an open market.  To DePalma and the Republicans, the latter strategy allows a mixture of egalitarian subsidy with free enterprise rather than an unaccountable government bureaucracy.  The Democrats have declared Bush’s “compassionate conservatism” to have disappeared, despite the Republican’s historic expansion of Medicare.  The sitting president’s use of commercial mechanisms, rather than centralized statist control, drove Pelosi and party into a rage.  When mixed with clichés about evangelicalism and global strategy coming in the GOP, the House Minority leader usually coasts back to Washington, D.C. every two years.  It is beneath Pelosi to recognize the fact that her opponent DePalma is a cautious pragmatist regarding war and a social libertarian.

As a powerful Congresswoman in a safe district, however, she is inert to acknowledging voters and competitors.  “She never debated in a general election,” laments DePalma.  In 2002, even New York Times liberal columnist Bill Keller denounced Pelosi for her egregious fundraising and having become distant from the electorate.  By keeping her challengers invisible, Pelosi denies the San Franciscan public a clear view of the moderate politics of her local Republican opponents.  Even on classic non-ideological pork-barreling, DePalma judges the incumbent a relative failure.  Projects like the rehabilitation of the Bayview Hunter’s Point Naval shipyard are “undernourished.  She’s letting them linger,” and the city is paying the price.  GOP centrists like DePalma offer the viable alternative at San Francisco’s polls, and are struggling to improve their outreach efforts.

In his race for State Senate, mergers and acquisitions consultant Andrew Felder has been making exactly this sort of successful inroads for the local Republicans.  Like DePalma, he breaks from his national party’s consensus on heterosexual marriage activism and abortion.  He, too, faces an entrenched San Francisco machine politician who does not acknowledge competition (and in his race, one who does not even have a website).  Lesbian progressive Carole Migden treats her current job on the Board of Equalization as a “parking space” between term limits, complete with a $41,000 Cadillac purchased at public expense

Whenever she is not enjoying the spoils of pseudo-competitive office, “she is the epitome of the type of extremist ideologue that has ruined the state’s finances,” added Felder.  Migden’s State Assembly voting record on critical business and tax issues was consistently wrong, and as Chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee she was directly responsible for the spendthrift frenzy during the 1990s boom whose obligations created the $38 billion Californian budget deficit debacle by 2002.

Felder’s drive to hold Migden accountable has been picking up steam.  After winning the endorsement of the San Rafael Chamber of Commerce, five local newspapers lined up to support him as well, including The Santa Rosa Press Democrat, The Marin Independent-Journal, and The San Francisco Examiner.  Despite very modest campaign resources, he is raising an unprecedented challenge.  Get out the Bay Area vote for Jennifer DePalma, Andrew Felder and the centrist Republican opposition.CRO




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