Chad Mayes, the affable leader of Assembly Republicans, says he wakes up every morning thinking about the low state of his party in California.
“We just haven’t been successful in sharing our belief system with others,” Mayes says.
“We sound like the only thing we care about is taxes.” — Chad Mayes
Mayes has plenty to ponder. Republicans have no statewide officeholders, a paltry 26 percent of registered voters (just a bit higher than the 24 percent who decline to state a party affiliation) and Mayes himself has to deal with a 25-55 Democratic supermajority in his Assembly.
How did Republicans wind up in such dire straits?
Mayes, 40, points out that his party was riding high in the 90s, with Republicans George Deukmejian occupying the governor’s office from 1983 to 1991 and Pete Wilson from 1991 until 1999. Democrat Gray Davis took over in 1999.
Being cast into the role of an opposition party congealed into a negative attitude that caused increasing numbers of voters to dislike Republicans, Mayes theorizes.
“They don’t like us,” he said. “People aren’t going to like you if you don’t like them. We were caustic. We haven’t done a very good job in letting people know we care about them. We sound like the only thing we care about is taxes.”
Political observers note that Mayes has sought to bridge the partisan divide between the GOP and ruling Democrats. For example, in March, he and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon appeared jointly at a Riverside event to talk politics and policy.
“Though we often don’t agree, Chad and I have been able to engage in serious policy conversations and come to agreement where there is common ground,” Rendon said in a statement about the event, sponsored by the Center for California Studies at Sacramento State.
“Regardless of what many believe, Republicans and Democrats alike are committed to improving the lives of all Californians,” Mayes said. “While the speaker and I disagree on the best way to get that done, I remain optimistic that we can work together … ”
Some constituents in his district have to drive for two hours to get to their relatively low-paying jobs.
Mayes also traces the decline of the Republican Party to demographics — a rising proportion of presumably Democrat-oriented minority groups and a decline in the presumably more Republican-oriented White population.
But Mayes has a plan.
It’s embodied in a slick, wide-ranging, 37- page outline from Assembly Republicans that talks about tax incentives, a “child care affordability plan,” educational benefits targeted at low-income youth, health care benefits and other features, all designed to show voters, especially middle class voters, that yes, California Republicans do care about more than taxes.
Even in the face of the current 4.9 unemployment rate, California has the highest poverty rate in the nation, Mayes points out, because of high housing costs, along with high prices for gas and electricity.
“If you have the education and the skills, you’re gonna be OK, but too many other people are getting paid too little,” he says, citing constituents in his district who have to drive for two hours to get to their relatively low-paying jobs.
In 2016, closely contested “target” districts, all Republican candidates, “every single one,” out polled Trump, even though some lost.
That district sprawls across a wide swath of Southern California’s high desert, taking in the small community of Yucca Valley, where he grew up and where he served for three terms on the Town Council. He was chief of staff to the chair of the San Bernardino Board of Supervisors and was a board member of the League of California Cities.
In his day job, Mayes, the son of a pastor and a graduate of Liberty University, was a financial planner. He was elected to the Assembly in 2014 and 10 months later — still a freshman legislator — was elected Republican leader.
The inevitable question for one of the Republicans charged with managing the party’s fortunes is: What effect has President Donald Trump’s unpopularity in this deep-blue state had on California Republicans?
It’s not helpful, Mayes admits.
“His popularity in this state is not great,” Mayes says. “But our responsibility as leaders is to try to work with our federal counterparts.”
Mayes is a fan of Republican Party Chairman Jim Brulte’s “farm system” strategy of starting Republicans in local, relatively small-bore offices such as school boards
Mayes is quick to point out that in 2016 closely contested “target” districts, all Republican candidates, “every single one,” outpolled Trump, even though some lost.
Mayes’s sleek, spotless and spartan office is on the third floor of the Capitol Annex. His desk is barren except for a large glass container of red licorice whips. For an interview, he seats his visitor in a coffee-colored leather sofa and himself in a nearby armchair. He listens intently and thoughtfully.
In contrast to some of his Republican colleagues, Mayes does not advocate always getting rid of a state program that has a record of sub par performance. “You fix it, you don’t necessarily get rid of it,” he says.
In a legislative chamber where his party is outnumbered by more than two-to-one, Mayes says he gets along fine with Rendon of Paramount, a fellow Southern Californian. The two meet socially with a fair degree of regularity, according to Mayes.
“I genuinely enjoy his company,” Mayes says of Rendon. “We disagree on policy, but he’s a good man.”
Mayes is a fan of Republican Party Chairman Jim Brulte’s “farm system” strategy of starting Republicans in local, relatively small-bore offices such as school boards and them moving them to city councils, boards of supervisors and then the legislature and perhaps beyond.
If that strategy ultimately succeeds, Mayes will someday wake up with more pleasant Republican prospects in mind: For a party saddled with a brand problem, more personal relationships with voters on the local level can only help Republicans.
“At the local level, you get to know the person, regardless of their party label,” he said.