From the outside, the California Republican Party’s convention this weekend appears to be all about the big names: Schwarzenegger and Giuliani. Behind the scenes, GOP members will pick sides in skirmishes between the party’s left and right flanks.
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger will kick off the three-day meeting, addressing the party faithful–for $80 a head–at a dinner-banquet on Friday.
Then on Saturday, Rudolph Giuliani, the former New York City mayor and all-but-declared candidate for the GOP presidential nomination, will speak during the noon luncheon.
Saturday evening Giuliani is expected to meet with several Republican legislators, drumming up support for his campaign.
He’ll also be trying to win over some of the party’s conservative base, which has been leery of the pro-choice moderate.
“He’s really got to make his case to the party activists,” said Mike Spence, president of the California Republican Assembly, a conservative branch of the party.
And as Republican activists converge on the Hyatt this weekend, the CRP finds itself deep in debt–with a possible presidential primary only a year away–led by a governor at odds with his conservative base on major policies like health care and the environment. Going into the convention, there is already talk of a resolution opposing the governor’s health care plan.
There are also ideological undertones in a likely fight over party rules. In a reprise of Republican conventions past, the party is headed for a showdown between conservatives and moderates over how to conduct its primary in 2008.
Conservative Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, R-Irvine, is opposed to moving up the state’s presidential primary–and has countered with his own rules to change the way the party assigns its delegates to the Republican National Convention.
DeVore’s plan would allow CRP members, which tend to be more conservative than Republican primary voters as a whole, to pick one-third of the state’s 159 convention delegates. The party would pick those 53 delegates at its convention in February 2008, eliminating the need for an early primary, DeVore argued.
“Because 53 is more than Iowa and New Hampshire combined,” he said.
DeVore’s move is a response to efforts by Governor Schwarzenegger and state legislative leaders move to move the presidential primary up to February 5, 2008, which conservative activists say would benefit the early front-runners. Two of the leading Republican presidential candidates–Giuliani and Arizona Sen. John McCain–both have been targets of criticism from party conservatives.
DeVore acknowledged that his hybrid primary system likely would benefit more conservative candidates, but said his opposition to moving the election was fiscal. “There is no mechanical reason why we need to spend $90 million of the taxpayers’ money to have an early voice in the presidential election.”
“We’re seriously strapped economically. Are you telling me it’s worth $90 million? We all know that the sole reason for this is to get a term-limits initiative on the ballot.”
But the rule would only go into effect if the state decides not to move its primary up to February. This week, legislative leaders from both parties fast-tracked that legislation.
Still, Tom Bordonaro, a former state Assemblyman and candidate for party vice-chairman, thinks the DeVore plan makes for good convention politics. “I think it will be the talk of the town.”
The bylaw change faces a tough challenge. It would take a two-thirds vote of the party’s rules committee to get a hearing.
The state party is also set to elect a new chairman and other statewide officers Sunday morning.
San Diego Republican Ron Nehring is a shoo-in for chairman, having served as vice-chairman in the last term and running unopposed for this election to replace outgoing part leader Duf Sundheim.
More competitive is the three-way race for vice-chairman: Bordonaro; Thomas Del Beccaro, chairman of the Contra Costa Republican Party; and Jalene Forbis from Weed, currently serving her second term as Secretary of the California Republican Party.
Bordonaro is campaigning on his many years of experience in government. He served under the Capitol dome as an Assembly member from 1994 to 1998, losing a close Congressional race to Democrat Lois Capps. He also served on the state board of prison terms under Governor Gray Davis, and is currently the elected assessor of San Luis Obispo County.
Del Beccaro is emphasizing the use of new media technology–especially the Internet and talk radio–to increase the party’s pull with voters. He said that during his tenure in Contra Costa, Republicans turned out to vote at higher rates than anywhere else in the state.
“Californians agree with Republicans on taxes, law and order, and government reform,” said Beccaro. “We need to work harder on making people know that’s what we stand for.”
Forbis didn’t reply to Capitol Weekly’s request for an interview. But in her campaign material, Forbis questioned the party’s $4.6 million debt following the 2006 elections.
It’s a concern among many CRP members, and Bordonaro is running his campaign on the debt theme as well.
“We might have a primary in a year, and we’re already starting behind the 8-Ball,” Bordonaro said.
Both Forbis and Bordonaro are calling for an explanation and accounting of the financial deficit, but Beccaro, downplayed the number–saying there are always debts to be paid after campaigns. “And there is a plan to pay off that debt within 90 days.”
Bordonaro agreed that a little debt is to be expected, but he was concerned about the amount of the shortfall. “If there is a plan to pay it off, it’s never been articulated to me.”
Worse than going in debt is going in debt while losing, said Mike Spence.
“We overspent, and we overspent on the wrong campaigns,” said Spence, arguing that since Angelides was headed for defeat well before Election Day, the party could have gotten more bang for its buck if it plowed some of the Schwarzenegger campaign money into the closer races of Tom McClintock and Bruce McPherson. “That money could have been spent against [Debra] Bowen and [John] Garamendi,” said Spence.
Campaigns for party leadership can get costly as well. Running for vice-chairman can costs tens, sometimes hundreds, of thousands of dollars according to party insiders.
“It’s not as big as an Assembly primary,” said Bordonaro. “But I’ve been involved in campaigns for county supervisor that cost less.”
He wouldn’t say just how much he’d spent on phone banking, e-mail and campaign literature, but said campaigns can cost “A minimum of $20,000 and go as high as $100,000. We’re somewhere in the middle of that.”
And the campaigns can get nasty. “At three in the morning, the flyers start going under people’s doors. There will be negative things about all of us,” Bordonaro said.
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