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California Republican Party: Heal, Thyself

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California Republican Party: Heal, Thyself

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Last weekend's California Republican Party state convention showed the extent to which the party activists are out of touch with the state and its pressing needs.

By taking a firm stand against allowing the public to decide on whether to adopt Democratic Governor Jerry Brown's proposal to continue temporary tax increases, the Republican Party further isolated itself from mainstream California. In the process, the convention mandate has left precious little room for Republican legislators to maneuver their way to common ground with the Democratic majority.

Republican activists aren't alone in being out of touch with the mainstream. A recent statewide poll finds that both major parties are more extreme than California voters, the lion's share of whom are moderates. But Democrats have two factors in their favor that the Republicans don't: a sizable majority in the legislature and the projection of compassion for those suffering in the state.

Now, with only 31 percent of the state self-identifying as Republicans, the party runs the risk of being marginalized to the point of political irrelevance in the nation's most populous state.

It doesn't have to be that way.

Republicans will succeed only if they embrace the state's evolving demography. Historically, the party has played to a conservative, upper middle class White base.  That worked reasonably well during '60s, '70s, '80s and even '90s, but it doesn't work today. And the base is eroding quickly.

In the 2010 November election, non-Latino whites were 42 percent of the state's population and 65 percent of the voters.

Those numbers declined from 2000, when non-Latino Whites accounted for 50 percent of the state's population and 72 percent of the voters. 

Bottom line: California is changing fast and the Republicans have their heads in the sand.

What to do?

Republicans need to reach out meaningfully to Latinos and Asians, whose numbers in the state grew by 28 percent and 32 percent respectively over the past decade. The party needs to find issues that these groups care about -- and there are plenty such as public education, job training, and immigration-related concerns such as driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants.

As the party of a "free economy," Republicans can do these things without giving up their traditional position on low taxes, but it has to be done in a thoughtful, caring way along the lines that George W. Bush used in 2000 when he won as a "compassionate conservative."

Democrats have had a field day because they have tapped into minority groups without any challenge from Republicans. As such, minorities have supported Democrats in overwhelming numbers, putting the Republicans in jeopardy.

The next few days will tell us much about the future of the state's Republican Party. If Republicans in the legislature use their skills wisely, they will find a way to permit the public to vote on the tax proposals whose revenues are desperately needed to maintain important programs for Californians, particularly minorities.

If they don't, Republicans increasingly will look not only as the party of "no," but the party of the past.

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