Republicans in California still don’t look like they are getting it through their heads what will make them more popular. The new session doesn’t even start until next week, but each week it looks like the GOP caucus in each house is moving further right than they already were.
In the Assembly two weeks ago, Republicans voted down Plescia as Minority Leader because he was seen a too conciliatory. Indeed, he was pragmatic and understood that the only way to remain relevant in what appears to be a nearly permanent minority position is to bargain with the majority party. As a result, there was significant give-and-take in the budgeting process, a budget was passed on time, the legislature was seen as being the most productive in decades, and the big winner was the Governor.
To replace Plescia, Republicans tapped Mike Villines of Clovis—a hard-line Republican most recently known for his fierce opposition to the budget and bonds. The GOP would have been hard pressed to find a party leader less bipartisan than Mr. Villines, who will almost certainly try to use his position to attack the wildly popular Republican (perhaps the ONLY wildly popular Republican left in the USA) Governor’s position on a number of issues that GOP leadership might see as un-Republican.
In the Senate, incumbent Minority Leader Dick Ackerman isn’t sitting too comfortably on his thrown. Reportedly, he hasn’t been able to secure enough votes to guarantee his reelection to the post, although he has more votes than Jim Battin, his main challenger. This could potentially lead to a compromise candidate—which might not be too bad.
Unfortunately, in order to be reelected, Ackerman has promised to take a harder stance on budget issues. That is, he wants to oppose the Governor’s pragmatic and centrist attempts to form a budget that serves the needs of Californians while simultaneously reducing wasteful spending. In the process, it appears he will be throwing away his good working relationship with Democratic leader Don Perata.
The problem with all this is that the GOP hasn’t figured out why nobody in California likes them and how the Governator became so popular (even though EVERYBODY hated him a year ago). It wasn’t bad spending, poor Republican turnout, or just Bush’s coattails that have led to the Blue Wave. Governor Schwarzenegger has mastered the technique of giving voters what they want.
An old professor of mine once explained that all voters want three things and that anybody who can figure out how to give all three will win every election: 1. Lower taxes, 2. More government services, 3. a balanced budget. While we all know it is impossible to give all of these all of the time, Governor Schwarzenegger has done extremely well by keeping taxes down (he hasn’t raised taxes), keeping services high (and proposing new popular public services regarding the environment and healthcare), and paying down the state’s debt.
The GOP could easily catch on to his strategy and ride it to further victories, but have chosen to fall into irrelevancy instead.