SF Chronicle & California Republicans: Facing Irrelevance

by Paul Hogarth on January 15, 2013

In yesterday’s Beyond Chron, Randy Shaw described the SF Chronicle’s declining circulation as “akin to the Republican Party – disproportionately white, over 60 years of age, and not a leading target of advertisers.” Part of that problem has been Chronicle reporter Carla Marinucci’s coverage of the state’s hapless GOP – which was on display in her Sunday story about “California politicians to watch” in 2013. Presented as a top-ten list, Marinucci picked five Democrats and five Republicans – although Democrats now have a super-majority in the legislature, and hold every statewide office. Democratic rising stars like Kamala Harris & John Perez are absent from her list, while Marinucci includes the Chair of San Francisco’s Republican Party and a Republican who just lost a race for Congress. As the state gets bluer, Marinucci and the Chronicle are focused on how to revive a state Republican Party that is getting more and more irrelevant every day.

It’s always fun to read stories in January about predictions for the year – or “rising stars” – so I read Marinucci’s article in the Chronicle yesterday with keen interest. Her choice of 10 statewide politicians to “watch” was not the list that I would have chosen. Republicans are now less than 30% of registered voters in the Golden State – and having been a permanent minority in the state legislature for over a decade, they now have dipped to below the one-third required to hold up any tax increases. California is getting younger and browner, so this trend will not reverse itself any time soon. So if you only pick 10 politicians, why 5 Democrats & 5 Republicans?

Looking at the five Democrats on the list, I couldn’t really disagree with Marinucci’s choice to include them. Three are freshman members of Congress who unseated an incumbent, which by definition makes them “rising stars” in 2013. Ami Bera, for example, is the only Indian-American in Congress – and his defeat of Dan Lungren symbolizes California’s changing demographics. Likewise, Latino Democrat Raul Ruiz unseated Republican Mary Bono-Mack in a Southern California district. The other two – State Senator Mark Leno & Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom – are both expected to seek higher office, which also makes them politicians to “watch.”

But the Republicans on her list was embarrassing. Here’s a pop quiz – have you ever heard of Kim Vann or Harmeet Dhillon? Vann was the failed GOP candidate who lost in November to Congressman John Garamendi – by an eight-point margin. She’s a “rising star,” explains Marinucci, because she’s a pro-choice Republican woman who can help the party grow. If that’s the standard for being on the list, why not include Jose Hernandez – a Latino astronaut, who came closer than Vann did at unseating a Central Valley Congressman? The only difference is that Hernandez is a Democrat.

Harmeet Dhillon chairs the San Francisco Republican Party – a city where the last GOP presidential candidate to win a single precinct was Bob Dole. She is on the list, explains Marinucci, because she’s running for vice-chair of the State Party.

Ah, yes. The California GOP’s biannual ritual where, having been soundly defeated by Democrats (again!) at the polls, party delegates do a little soul-searching. Often, they elect a new chair – but usually the Neanderthal wing prevails, and the Party decides they were “not right-wing enough.” Marinucci is very interested in who California Republicans pick to rescue the State Party from oblivion – having covered such forays in the past. This year’s candidate for Party Chair, Jim Brulte, made her Top Ten List – and is a “moderate voice of reason” in the Party.

Jim Brulte a “moderate”? The former State Senate Minority Leader pioneered the California Republican strategy of sectarian litmus tests and refusals to raise taxes in any way, shape or form. Back in June 2003, when he served in Sacramento, Brulte famously met with his GOP colleagues behind closed doors and threatened to recruit a Republican to run against any member who voted for a budget with tax increases. This led to a stalemate, which eventually resulted in the recall of Gray Davis.

Brulte was termed out of the legislature in 2004 – but his legacy of Republican obstructionism lived on, each and every year. It didn’t matter if it was 2005, 2007 or 2009 – and it didn’t even matter who the politicians were in Sacramento. Jim Brulte began a legacy among Republicans in the legislature to hold up the budget every year until Democrats agreed to no tax increases whatsoever. In 2010, voters finally changed the constitution to pass a state budget with a majority vote – and in 2012, elected a new legislature with a two-thirds Democratic supermajority so we can raise taxes.

Who was not included in the list of “top 10 politicians” to watch in 2013? Attorney General Kamala Harris – who, like Newsom who made the cut, also has her sights on running for Governor. In fact, a hypothetical Newsom-Harris match in 2018 would be epic. How about Assembly Speaker Jon Perez, or State Senate President Darrell Steinberg – both Democratic leaders who now have a super-majority in their house? Or State Assemblyman Phil Ting, a San Francisco freshman who was already made Chair of the Democratic Caucus? Ting has already made a name of himself on Prop 13 reform, and with term limits having been loosened is a person to watch in 2013.

The Chronicle failed to capture the Top Ten politicians to “watch” in 2013 – because they cling to an antiquated notion that Republicans are still relevant. Haven’t two decades of election results proven that California is a solid blue state? If Marinucci keeps covering state GOP politics with this intensity, they will never learn – and the Chronicle will continue to lose more of its readers.

Filed under: Archive