Between its strange state convention last weekend and the ongoing state budget impasse, California’s party of no has seemingly taken center stage in the not so Golden State. But is that really so? And is it a good thing for Republicans if it is?
Surely the spectacle of the Republicans’ state convention in Sacramento did nothing more than further cement the party’s reputation as an increasingly narrow club of ideologues. And during the week, most Republican legislators mirrored just that, though some continue to negotiate with Governor Jerry Brown. But it remains to be seen how serious they are, and if their ultimate goal is to shoot the moon and try to look good.
After nearly three months of talks, Brown has been asking Republicans for a “term sheet” of what it will take to close the deal. Finally, late on Friday, Republicans released it. What it is, as you see here, is a Christmas wish list, filled with items unrelated to the budget crisis, including moving the state’s primary election. Of course, that list was put out by Republican leaders in the Legislature, not most of the legislators who’ve been negotiating with Brown.
At their convention just down the block from the state Capitol, the gravitational forces on Republican legislators were all too evident. The party’s dominant far right ideologues tried hard to prevent any compromise with Democrats, voting overwhelmingly to oppose a combination of deep budget cuts and extensions of 2009′s temporary tax hikes even if major changes were effected on public pensions and regulations and state spending limits were put in place.
Mississippi Governor and veteran super-lobbyist Haley Barbour was the featured speaker at the California Republican Party convention. Barbour, caught in a recent controversy over his defense of white citizens’ councils during the civil rights era, has no more chance of beating the first black president of the United States, much less carrying California, than you have of flying to Mars.
In fact, party leadership went so far as to demand that Brown debate their champion. Who was, after billionaire Meg Whitman was trounced last November despite spending a record $180 million… a professional anti-government lobbyist thousands of miles away in Washington, D.C. Former Jack Abramoff running mate Grover Norquist thought he had the California Republican legislative caucus locked up with the overwhelming majority having signed no-tax pledges. Which he and other zealots interpret as preventing any public vote on taxes.
California Republican Party chairman Ron Nehring, who was a longtime aide to Norquist, challenged Brown to debate Norquist, who infamously said that he wants to reduce government “to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub,” at the convention. It was a ridiculous idea, and the response from Brown’s spokesman Gil Duran was to offer Brown’s Welsh corgi, Sutter Brown, as a more appropriate debating partner for a far right lobbyist from the other side of the country.
But that level of thinking is typical for these conventions. I’ve been to many of them. Some of these activists get very worked up. A top aide to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger nearly got into a fist fight at the bar of the posh Hyatt at Capitol Park during the 2009 state GOP convention when a far right type decided to express his disapproval of Team Arnold’s moderate politics by shoving him. At an earlier Republican convention another drunken far right activist challenged another top Schwarzenegger aide to a fight.
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