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Lessons from 2012: Building a “New” Republican Party

Saturday, November 17, 2012
posted by Carl DeMaio

Published in today’s OC Register.

Carl DeMaio: Building ‘new’ Republican Party in California

San Diego mayoral race offers glimpses of overhaul state party needs.

By Carl DeMaio

If you do not learn from your mistakes, you are destined to repeat them.

In the wake of last week’s staggering electoral losses, the California Republican Party must admit it did not merely have a bad cycle, but it faces a major crisis years in the making. And the crisis facing the California Republican Party is much more severe than the one confronting the national Republican Party.

Fortunately, with every crisis comes opportunity.

Indeed, there is a huge opportunity to evolve into a “New” California Republican Party that can offer hope not only to our troubled state, but to the nation as well.

Last week I lost the San Diego Mayor’s race 49%-51%. In a Democratic city where Republicans are actually a “third” party behind Independents, we outperformed Republican Party registration by 21%. It still was not enough.

My race offers some insight on the kind of crisis the old California Republican Party faces, and our relative progress against the tide against us offers some lessons on what we need to do more of in the next election.

Become the Party of Reform. Californians want fiscal responsibility – and an agenda that emphasizes reforming how tax dollars are spent to eliminate government waste. In the June primary, our Pension Reform Initiative carried every district in San Diego, and won a majority of Democrats and Independents.

The “New” Republicans should wrap themselves in a bold Reform Agenda, and given how poorly the state and local governments manage their finances, we shall find ample opportunities to make the case for reform.

Commit to Making Government Work Again. Californians like government, and voters want government to work again. Too often Republicans have taken an “end it, don’t mend it” stance.

The “New” Republicans can offer a vision of making government work that is still consistent with our principles. For example, let’s talk about how public-private partnerships can be used to provide better services, or how non-profits can provide better after-school programs than government-managed programs.

Move Beyond “No” and Offer Real Solutions. Independent voters in particular want solutions, not partisan fights. Republicans have consistently voted against tax increases and regulatory mandates, but rarely have offered credible solutions as alternatives. A few years ago one legislative leader who candidly told me “We’re the minority party, we don’t make policy and politically it is just safer to vote No on the majority’s ideas than offer our own.”

In San Diego, we defeated a massive tax increase and presented our own detailed “Roadmap to Recovery” budget that balanced without tax increases or service cuts. We took a risk to offer detailed policy solutions and it worked. Despite a Democrat majority on the City Council, many of our ideas got implemented.

The “New” Republicans should partner with a host of worthy state and local think tanks to craft detailed solutions to California’s problems. Offering concrete ideas to tackle tough problems comes with political blowback from some powerful groups, but then again Republicans have little more to lose in their current situation.

Become a Party of Inclusion. Californians have become ethnically and socially diverse – with exit polling showing only 54 percent of the 2012 electorate was white. Latino votes surged from 18 percent in 2008 to 22 percent in 2012. The Republican Party through sins of omission and commission has alienated Latinos, Blacks and gays – and they’ve virtually ignored Asians.

In San Diego this was a huge liability for us, and we never really overcame it. As a gay candidate, I had immense challenges even with the local gay community who simply could not accept I was a Republican. Immediately after the primary, we started a massive walk program targeting high-propensity Latino households. Some Latino houses were walked three times by Election Day, to go along with micro-targeted direct mail. In the end, the Republican brand was a non-starter.

“New” Republicans will have to demonstrate inclusiveness in all respects – and we must change the conversation to issues that unite with these communities, such as the “Reform Agenda.” We also need to find credible “brand ambassadors” from within these communities to begin to build trust and support in each of these communities.

Court the Next Generation. The California electorate is becoming younger each cycle, and Republicans have done an abysmal job winning these new votes.

In San Diego, the Democrats funded a massive voter registration drive at UCSD, resulting in thousands of new younger voters who overwhelmingly opted to register as Democrats. It’s a lot easier to register a first time voter in your party than to persuade someone to switch a party later on.

To compete for this next generation of voters, “New” Republicans have to understand how to engage them with messages that resonate and how to reach them using new media.

To implement these changes, we need leaders willing to learn from mistakes and courageous enough to try new things – bold things – that might make some Republicans a bit uncomfortable. In addition, we need to fund these changes with resources, ranging from branding and marketing efforts to voter registration drives.

The “New” Republican Party in California will not be born overnight, as this crisis was not created overnight. Fortunately, two years is a lifetime in politics – and the next few weeks can be a dynamic time of rebirth for California Republicans if they are willing to make major changes.

Carl DeMaio is a San Diego City Councilmember.

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5 Responses to “Lessons from 2012: Building a “New” Republican Party”

  1. Patricia Madden says:

    Attract Latinos to the party…huh? This is the guy who endorsed Sherry Hodges over Rocky Chavez. He was featured on many of her mailers. Where was he then? Six of the last seven San Diego Mayors were Republicans. Maybe, just maybe could it be he ran a bad campaign? Time to move on to other candidates. Oh, wait….the next Republican mayor was hounded out of the Party by Chairman Tony. Maybe it is time to beg him to come back?

  2. Brian Brady Brian Brady says:

    “Attract Latinos to the party…huh? This is the guy who endorsed Sherry Hodges over Rocky Chavez.”

    Oh good grief Patricia. If you’re going to yell “Racism” at anybody who supported Mrs. Hodges over Col. Chavez, it’s going to be hard to take you seriously. Conservatives lined up behind Mrs Hodges because of a difference in philosophy..

  3. Patricia Madden says:

    Could you tell me the difference between the two?

  4. Brian Brady Brian Brady says:

    Absolutely, Patricia. Good question. To me, it came down to the role of government. Mrs, Hodges talked about repealing laws and regulations while Col Chavez talked about refining them. I prefer the former because I believe the latter can result in unintended but just as harmful consequences.

    I remember a great conversation I had with Rocky about education reform. He was explaining some really unique ideas about budgeting and, while I didn’t understand it at first, by the time we finished talking, he outlined it really well, so well that I was impressed. As I was driving home though, I was kicking myself for not asking him “why would State government be doing that anyway?”. I get nervous with “better manager Republicans” because they can get painted into a corner when tax votes come up.

    I remember another great conversation I had with Sherry about education reform where I brought up a voucher-type program. She skillfully pointed out that I would be delegating more power to the State rather than local school boards.

    I’m disappointed that Sherry’s campaign fell short but I’m not unhappy with Col Chavez in the Assembly. The man understands how to read and pull apart budgets and that’s a worthy skill. He’s made a very public commitment to oppose any and all property and income tax hikes. At the end of the day, that’s all that this Republican can ask for so I’m optimistic.

  5. C. Lee Sandvick says:

    great article Carl,
    but I feel compelled to mention a few points.

    While making calls for the Republican party, one guy commented, “I never hear from you guys for 2 years, now all of a sudden I am getting hounded to vote for your candidate. Give me a break”. I passed on that message but apparently the ‘R’ party did not learn.

    To really make a tremendous change, we must have a connection with every single eligible voter in San Diego/California, not just Republicans. Every voter must become educated and feel connected to their community.

    Lynette Williams said the solution to this was precinct captains. You can either make the precincts a lot smaller or recruit block captains.

    The ‘R’ party has not put any emphasis on the bigger threat, but must, As Ronald Reagan said –
    “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same…””

    We are that generation and are facing the threat to our republic. People need to know about the threat instead of focusing entirely on issues or the economy.

    The ‘R’ party should team up with other groups. Ie – putting each potential candidate thru the intensive iCaucus process.

    That could be an advertising tool.
    ”Did your Democrat candidate (or Republican) go thru the iCaucus vetting process – If no, why not? Would you vote for a person who did not put America and our constitution first?” That is why educating the voters is so important.

    Lastly, make the ‘R’ meetings proactive – a 15 minute period in the meeting to solicit ideas or feedback from the group.

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