Tea party makes California inroads

Party’s caucus gets a table at the California Republican fall convention for the first time

ANAHEIM, Calif. — For the first time, the tea party’s California caucus has a table at the state's Republican fall convention. And the state GOP, which had seen donations dwindle to the point that it was mired in $1 million of debt just seven months ago, is now debt free.

This just happens to coincide with a big show of force by the national Republican leadership in Washington. The federal government has shut down because many Republicans have refused to pass a budget unless President Obama’s Affordable Care Act is put on hold.  

“It’s generating excitement,” said Randall Jordan, head coordinator for the tea party statewide caucus and owner of a construction company in San Luis Obispo. “The House of Representatives is doing a great job. They’re doing exactly the job they’re supposed to be doing.”

It’s also galvanizing California Republicans, especially the more ardent conservatives in the state’s Central Valley, in a minority party that has suffered political and financial setbacks in recent years.

In a state with a Democratic governor — Jerry Brown, who was the nation’s youngest when he served in the 1970s and is now the oldest at age 75 — and a legislature controlled by Democrats, Republicans finally see a glimmer of hope that the moderate and conservative wings of the party are coming together to strengthen their base in California.

“It’s the first state convention where the tea party is invited,” Jordan said. “The party was ready to coalesce. We have reps here from Northern California all the way to San Diego and the Central Coast.”

Republican consultant Steve Parkhurst, of GPH Consulting, said the timing is fortuitous because the state party has finally emerged from a severe fiscal crisis, thanks to new party chair Jim Brulte, who took over earlier this year.

“These are good times in the sense that … it’s a really good rebound time, rebuilding time,” he said. “So it’s very much just a time everybody is getting together on the same page.”

Hugh Bussell, who works in high-tech consulting and lives in Livermore, is a Republican Party volunteer. “It’s kind of exciting,” he said, that the Republicans who were elected to fight what many are calling Obamacare are doing just that.

As for the government shutdown?  “I’m opposed to the president spending money to put up barricades to keep people out of open-air monuments,” he said. “He’s politicizing all this. It’s unfortunate it’s come to this point.”

The challenges are still huge. Democrats have a supermajority, with enough members for the two-thirds vote needed in both state houses to raise taxes. Brown has balanced the budget and is broadening his base with some Hispanics. Friday he signed a law giving undocumented immigrants driver’s licenses.

Now the Republicans have to find a strong candidate to take on Brown by the March 7, 2014, filing deadline.

“There’s a huge vacuum that nobody is filling at the moment,” said California GOP consultant Rob Stutzman.

Abel Maldonado, the state’s former lieutenant governor, hopes to step into that void. He attended the convention to rally supporters behind his bid to challenge Brown as the Republican candidate.

His campaign strategists reminded Republicans that one of their own, Andy Vidak, recently won a state senate special election despite strong Democratic opposition.

Maldonado's event was billed as “The Official Jerry Brown Retirement Party.”

Sue Caro, treasurer of the Alameda County Republican Party, said she is “positive about the new party leadership and feeling very optimistic.”

“Republicans are so gung-ho going in the direction they’re going in because they’re sitting in safe districts,” said Peter Mathews, a political-science professor at Cypress College in Orange County and a political commentator on KTLK Progressive Talk Radio. “They feel so emboldened that they bring someone like (Texas Gov.) Rick Perry to speak.”

Perry, who is said to be considering a second run at the presidency, was the headline speaker at the convention, where he slammed California’s protectionist policies and lauded Texas as a “limited-government … freedom state.”

“I think the party is motivated,” said Jay Mosley, 33, a delegate from Santa Cruz County.

Mosley isn’t sure if the shutdown is good or bad for the country, but he knows one thing for sure. “A lot of businesses are leaving California. We need to focus on being a little more business friendly,” he said. “The Democratic-controlled legislature has taken its toll on the state.”

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