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GOLIS: Can local Republicans come back?


Peter Behr was a Yale-educated lawyer who represented the North Bay in the state Senate from 1970 to 1978. Among the Legislature’s most passionate advocates for the environment, Behr, who died in 1997, led the campaign to create the Point Reyes National Seashore, and he authored legislation to protect the state’s wild and scenic rivers.

William T. Bagley is a Berkeley-educated lawyer (and valedictorian of his senior class) who represented the North Bay in the state Assembly from 1960 to 1974. As a lawmaker, Bagley championed fair housing, open government and civil rights legislation.

Pete Golis.

Pete Golis.

There’s one other thing you should know about the legislative careers of Behr and Bagley: Both were Republicans.

As leaders of the California Republican Party last week tried to explain the decline of GOP fortunes, what was most surprising is that they seemed surprised.

Having gone out of their way to antagonize large numbers of women, minorities, public employees, teachers, young people, environmentalists, low-income people, gay people and anyone with a gay friend or family member, one wonders: What did they think was going to happen?

Some of my best friends are middle-aged (or older) white men, but if you think they are all you need to build a successful political movement, you will be disappointed.

Even longtime and loyal Republicans have drifted away from a party that seems increasingly determined to marginalize itself.

Once upon a time, voters in Sonoma County routinely voted for Republicans — Behr and Bagley, state Sen. Jim Nielsen, Assemblyman Don Sebastiani, Assemblywoman Bev Hansen, the late Assemblyman Bill Filante, Rep. Don Clausen, Rep. Frank Riggs.

Those days seem long ago and far away. Today, there are more than twice as many Democrats as Republicans in Sonoma County, and Republicans barely outnumber voters who decline to state a party preference.

It’s true that the electorate changed. Growth in the 1970s and 1980s brought new people, and most of them were Democrats. A rural county once dominated by real estate and farm interests would be slowly transformed by new arrivals who envisioned a larger role for government.

They brought with them a different agenda. They cared about social services and women’s issues and measures to protect the environment. (Ironically, the people who came in the rush of new home development soon concluded that new home development wasn’t a good idea.)

An earlier generation of Republicans would have found supporters among these new residents. Those Republicans demanded efficient government, but they didn’t think all taxes were bad. They didn’t view government as an unrelenting impediment to success. They supported education and other government initiatives that helped business become more successful.

In the days when California was building the finest public school system and the finest highway system in the world, Democrats and Republicans worked together.

In essence, today’s Republican Party in California has decided it no longer wants to be the pragmatic, problem-solving, mainstream party of Earl Warren and Ronald Reagan. It wants to be the anti-government, anti-tax, anti-immigrant party.

In the hand-wringing that began with last week’s state convention, GOP leaders announced plans to reach out to Latino voters. This was, of course, the same party whose leaders in the 1990s sponsored measures to outlaw affirmative action and to impose sanctions on illegal immigrants. Now the GOP hopes Latino voters will forgive and forget.

So we return to the original question: Can local Republicans come back? After all, Republicans were once competitive here; couldn’t they be that way again?

The answer is: Not unless the party changes.

The coastal counties of California have shown themselves to favor a political outlook not recently associated with the new Republican orthodoxy. In Sonoma County, a Republican hasn’t won a partisan election in more than 15 years. And the fastest growing bloc of voters is composed of Latinos who have felt unwelcome in the GOP.

The people in the most conservative wing of the Republican Party imagine themselves to be heirs to the legacy of Reagan.

But, as president of the United States, Reagan signed legislation to grant amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants.

As governor, he signed one of the largest tax increases in state history. He also signed legislation making state income taxes subject to payroll withholding. And he signed into law a bill to permit a woman to secure an abortion in case of rape or incest, or if her life was in danger.

Imagine the reaction from today’s tea party Republicans.

This doesn’t mean Reagan wasn’t conservative. It means he understood that success is achieved when elected representatives work together to fashion solutions.

If the leaders of the California Republican Party want to be relevant again, they could begin by revisiting the traditions of the pragmatic Republicans who preceded them. They were Republicans who believed in the future, Republicans who didn’t believe that “no, no, no” was the answer to every question.

(Pete Golis is a columnist for The Press Democrat. Email him at golispd@gmail.com.)

20 Responses to “GOLIS: Can local Republicans come back?”

  1. Dan Drummond Sr says:

    I had my head examined and George W Bush is still seriously responsible for this mess!
    “Financially, the war has tapped $1.7 trillion from the U.S. Treasury to date, with future health and disability payments to veterans of $590¬billion, according to Brown University’s Costs of War Project. The estimate includes, among other things, $770 billion in direct Department of Defense war appropriations, $402 billion in associated defense costs, $246¬billion in Homeland Security costs and $139 billion in debt interest.”

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  2. Jean Anderson says:

    @Dan Drummond

    Glad you noticed. I was using the same language that we so often see here by left-leaning posters to condemn people they disagree with as”tea party haters” and other slurs.

    They forget the same can be said about them, especially when they post blatant lies such as “Obama is cutting and cutting” and other ridiculous claims.

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  3. Dan Drummond Sr says:

    The truth is … we need one another. There can’t be a right without a left, or a left without a right. Yes even politics has a yin and yang; whenever one quality reaches its peak, it will naturally begin to transform into the opposite quality. Or will it!

    I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend. ~Thomas Jefferson

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  4. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    Steve Humphrey-you miss the fact that the current crop of Republican candidates are not at the same caliber and intelligence level of old. When Nixon starts looking good to me today, that Republican party that Nixon was a part of no longer exists. When stupidity is valued over knowledge, when legislating abortion and birth control, taking away women’s rights, and voter’s rights becomes standard fare in the Republican party, when favoring the 1% and big corporations over the voters becomes the status quo then it just isn’t that fiscally conservative party of old-the one that Abe, Teddy, Ike, and, yes, even Nixon was a part of.

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  5. Dan Drummond Sr says:

    Those who call other people left or right-wing, ignorant, haters and extremists need to have their head examined.

    It has been said that politics is the second oldest profession. I have learned that it bears a striking resemblance to the first. ~Ronald Reagan

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  6. Steve Humphrey says:

    “This doesn’t mean Reagan wasn’t conservative. It means he understood that success is achieved when elected representatives work together to fashion solutions.”

    Wish our current President understood this……….

    What Reagan, and even Clinton had was the ability to lead great men towards a common thread. All for the good of the country. Whether Democrats or Republicans, those are the people we need in office.

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  7. Jean Anderson says:

    Anyone who seriously thinks that conservatives and tea party people who want fiscal sanity, and believe in self-reliance and limited government, caused the mess we are in today needs their head examined.

    Some of the posts here are pure fairytales spewed by left-wing, ignorant, haters and extremists.

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  8. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    When the extremist Libertarians and Teapartiers hijacked the Republican party was when it became irrelevent. That party of old, of fiscally conservative and socially responsible Republicans is long gone. Many moderates, who are no longer welcome in the Republican party, have abandoned it as the Democratic party has become more conservative and moderate. The Republican party has become the party of crazies so bent on social legislating women’s health and taking away their freedom and legislating against gays. They are also, all over the country, legislating away voting rights, and rights of workers.

    Any sane person, any working person who votes Republican is voting against their own self interests. It’s quite obvious when you look at where the money comes from in elections. Libertarians like the Koch Brothers are pouring millions in elections and getting away with it. THIS IS NOT A GOOD THING. They are NOT on the American People’s side, or even on the side of repairing the American economy because they like the billions they are hoarding and want more.

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  9. GAJ says:

    The party that cynically promises you more “stuff” and says that someone else will pay for it is having its moment in the sun, no question.

    Problem is we ALL must accept LESS “stuff” and we ALL should expect to pay more for it.

    No party could possibly win by telling us the truth which is why we don’t hear it from either party.

    Kicking the can down the road and winning the next election is priority number one.

    Solving existing problems and reducing our ever growing debts?


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  10. Dan Drummond Sr says:

    With the widening gap between the few rich and many poor, it’s natural that many are leaning towards a more progressive school of thought. It’s the young; they’re evolving us again.

    The first step in the evolution of ethics is a sense of solidarity with other human beings. ~Albert Schweitzer

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  11. Reality Check says:

    It’s not unusual in American history for one party to dominate an area. The South was once virtually a lock for Democrats. Now it’s the reversed. Is that evidence there’s something wrong with Democrats? Revealingly, where Republicans are now in the minority is proof there’s something wrong with Republicans. There is, but it just might not be that they aren’t more like Democrats.

    As to labeling Republicans as anti-education, that canard is getting old. The decline and fall of education in California is the result other, far more powerful problems: intransigent teachers’ unions and a cultural/political shift that has turned the classroom away from serious education. As performance in other states attests, money is rarely the issue.

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  12. James Kenneth says:


    Nice deflection and COMPLETE ignoring of any issues.

    Let me guess! Another REPUBLICAN!

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  13. Jean Anderson says:

    California is a lost cause, overrun by left-wing extremism and stupidity. Just look at the clowns in Sacramento, led by the phony Jerry Brown, who preaches austerity but is in the pockets of the public unions.

    The California dream is now a nightmare thanks to idiots like Pelosi and Boxer. Anyone with sense can see the state is on the fast-track to bankruptcy and failure under current non-leadership.

    Sad that the liberal looney fringe virus is trying hard to destroy our once great state.

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  14. Vinyl Rules says:

    The local GOP will never come back as long as it’s national form is so extreme. Local Republicans could completely adopt the Democratic platform and it wouldn’t win them more than a few votes. They are tainted by their name and association with an institution no one respects anymore. Until the national and state party change, it won’t matter what local Republicans do.

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  15. michael koepf says:

    With the inevitability of corruption inherent in all one party systems now dominant in our state government, one would think that a responsible journalist would be looking into the waste; needless expense and corruption rampant in Sacramento. Not Golis. Ever the avid California Democrat-Stalinist, he rips the few remaining, powerless Republicans and advises them to change into what—Democrats? This guy should get a Pulitzer Prize for statist propaganda.

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  16. Reality Check says:

    If the purpose of political parties is to win elections, or sell razor blades, then of course the sales pitch needs to be adjust to reflect the mood of the marketplace at any given time. But if it’s about something more, then this becomes a little more complicated than Golis seems to think.

    And the assumption that a “moderate” Republican of 40 yrs ago and today is roughly the same doesn’t ring true to me. Our present overall debt level and pension shortfall, to name just two areas, require anyone who favors fiscal prudence to find themselves labeled entirely uncool.

    Social issues are a little more vexing. This is a divided nation, although its direction is not in doubt. Republicans face a choice, kid themselves into thinking Latinos will vote for them if they “give” on immigration and lose their base voter in the process. Given the long-held prediction that Republicans couldn’t win elections with a pro-life agenda, that theory is, at best, questionable.

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  17. Demosthenes says:

    The new wave of California elections isn’t a Dem vs. Reep outcome. What you will see is host of former Republicans switching to Democrat (with top two, why not?) and then a younger generation of Republicans waiting on their party affiliations.

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  18. Beef King says:

    The answer is no. The Republican Party is dead.
    The Party was killed by the toxic impact of a small but forceful contingent of religious extremists that hijacked the party and delivered it into irrelevancy.

    The Progressives are having the same negative impact on the Democrat Party, and aren’t too far behind the Repubs in the race for failure.

    Both parties are doomed to be replaced if they can’t get control of their freaks.

    Whigs and Tories, anyone?

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  19. Luther Burbank says:

    CA Republican Party: Useless.

    For all the bellyaching the conservatives do on this website, for how much they claim the Dems have run the state into the ground, where were the Republicans? Why weren’t people running to the Republicans in DROVES? It can’t be because we’re all on welfare or illegal.

    It’s because the Republicans are useless. What’s worse than a party that “runs the state into the ground?” A party that can’t get it’s act together to stop “the destruction of CA.” Hey, let’s talk about rape! Let’s talk about illegals! Let’s talk about gays and abortions! Wait! Where’s everyone going? Come back! We won’t hold it against you if you’re not a rich white man! We don’t care if you were raped! Really!

    CA Republican Party: DOA. RIP.

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  20. Juvenal says:

    Republicans have bought into the Libertarian political “philosphy”–they think they are the only ones who value liberty, but also do not hesitate to call the zoning department.

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