Despite the election of Arnold Schwarzenegger as governor through an unusual set of circumstances, California Republicans have been relegated to the sidelines for decades. (The party believes its fortunes will change in November’s mid-terms.)
The state is blue, but its GOP nominees are deep red. In the current climate, Republican businesswomen Meg Whitman, running for governor, and Carly Fiorina, running for the US Senate, are scrambling into far right field to win the party’s nomination.
Lou Cannon, journalist and Reagan biographer, says the beloved GOP icon would have a hard time winning the GOP nomination because the California Republicans have moved so far to the right. From the LA Times:
“Reagan would be hard pressed to get nominated today,” says biographer Lou Cannon, who has written several books about his governorship and presidency. “Today he would not be in the conservative mainstream. He just simply would not be.
“Reagan was practical. He had principles, but he wanted to succeed in office. That’s what is missing today in government. A lot of these birds, they don’t seem to care that much about whether the state does well.”
California’s budget is a huge mess and fixing it will require a combination of budget cuts and tax increases. But the GOP candidates insist that trimming waste, fraud and abuse will solve the problem.
You’d think there would be at least one Republican pragmatist running for governor — a pragmatic conservative.
Some wannabe governor willing to spend big for a worthy cause, raise taxes if needed, protect the environment from exploiters chanting “economic growth,” be tolerant on social issues, even support amnesty for hard-working illegal immigrants.
Too bad such a gubernatorial candidate probably couldn’t be nominated by GOP voters in California.
But wait! One such candidate was: Ronald Reagan. Nominated and elected governor and president. The classic conservative icon.
True, Reagan ran for office as a conservative. “Government is not the solution. Government is the problem,” he insisted.
But once in office, he usually governed as a moderate, a pragmatist. And he was easily reelected.
Today, Reagan would be branded “just another liberal politician” by the likes of Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner.
As governor, Reagan was the biggest California spender of the last half century. Under him, state spending leaped 177%. And as president, he spent like the proverbial drunken sailor to expand the Navy and the nuclear missile arsenal while winning the Cold War. He left Washington with a then-record national debt.
His first year as governor, Reagan raised taxes equal to 30% of the state general fund, still a modern record. And as president, he increased taxes several times, although conservatives pretend to remember only the one big tax cut.
As governor, Reagan protected the spectacular John Muir Trail in the Sierra from highway builders and Central Valley business interests. He blocked dam building on the Eel and Feather rivers. He and Republican Gov. Paul Laxalt of Nevada set aside their aversion to centralized, intrusive government and created a bi-state agency to control growth at Lake Tahoe.
Reagan signed legislation creating the California Air Resources Board, leading to the nation’s first tailpipe emissions standards.
Now Republicans Whitman and Poizner advocate postponing implementation of a law to control greenhouse gas emissions.
Today, Reagan would be tagged by his party as an environmental extremist.
The list goes on.
As governor, Reagan signed the nation’s then most liberal abortion rights bill. (He later called it a mistake.) He opposed a ballot initiative that would have permitted the firing of teachers for being gay.
President Reagan signed a bill granting amnesty to illegal immigrants.
Poizner runs attack ads accusing Whitman of supporting amnesty. Whitman counters with ads vehemently denying it.
“When Ronald Reagan was elected president [in 1980] he was the foul pole in right field. Today he’d be in center field,” says former Republican legislative leader Jim Brulte, now a consultant and chairman of Poizner’s gubernatorial campaign.
Meanwhile, an initiative on the ballot today would vastly cut back the influence of both major parties in California, and good-government types are campaigning for it. But partisans on both sides are fighting it, so it probably won’t pass.
Democrats and Republicans have joined forces to try to get voters to reject Proposition 14, a measure that would replace the current partisan primary system with one in which all candidates run regardless of party affiliation and then the top two vote-getters face each other in the general election. Democratic Party leaders are warning their members that if the measure passes, they might have to choose between two Republicans; GOP leaders are offering similar warnings about the peril of having to pick between two Democrats. What they leave out is that under the top two primary, candidates would have to appeal from the beginning to a broad swath of the electorate instead of just their parties’ hardliners. It’s a route to more pragmatic officeholders and elections controlled more by voters than by political parties — which is why the Democratic and Republican parties both oppose it so adamantly, and why it would be a positive move for California.