Last weekend about 1,500 Republican leaders from all around California gathered at the Hyatt Regency Hotel across the street from the state Capitol for our biennial organizational convention. As is pretty much always the case, if you read the headlines blazing across MSM newspapers and reporter blogs, you might think that the convention was a bloodbath of epic proportions. It was not, of course.
I spent a lot of time at the convention talking to delegates from as far north as Humboldt County and south all the way to San Diego. The two issues that were dominant on the minds of convention-goers, by far, were excitement about the upcoming GOP primary for president, deciding who will be our standard bearer against Barack Obama next year, and excitement and support for the unity that Republican legislators in Sacramento have demonstrated in opposing putting Gov. Brown’s proposal for the largest tax increase in state history on the ballot.
At the convention delegates were able to hear from two of the dozen-plus potential presidential contenders – Mississippi Governor and former RNC Chairman Haley Barbour, and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton. With candidates only just starting to formally announce now, we can expect to see many of these candidates in California, both to raise funds, and also to start to campaign in a state where GOP delegates are awarded locally, three to the winner of each individual Congressional District.
Delegates were very unified and direct in their feelings about Gov. Brown’s proposal for higher taxes, unanimously voting on the convention floor to prospectively oppose any tax increases or extensions that might appear before voters between now and the next convention in September. It was also made clear that this opposition was irrespective of whether other policy issues were placed on the ballot and tied to the passage of the taxes. The party also officially opposed the proposal for a $1 per-pack cigarette tax and opposed the measure to weaken California’s legislative term limits, both of which will appear on the next statewide ballot.
This being the first GOP convention since Gov. Schwarzenegger’s departure from office, the convention delegates took the opportunity to pass a hard-hitting resolution, authored by outgoing Treasurer Keith Carlson, criticizing the former governor’s commutation of the manslaughter sentence of the son of former Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez. Delegates also approved a merger of the state’s two Young Republicans organizations, ending an almost 20 year division.
On the issue of Proposition 14, a lot of discussion took place leading up to the convention on how the party should deal with the ugly reality that the measure deprives political parties of the ability to use the ballot to survey just-registered voters of their own party to determine nominees.
In the end, a proposal put forward just days before the convention by former party official Mike Spence carried the day. The “Spence Plan” as it was dubbed set into place the following provisions for the 2012 cycle: In a race where only one Republican makes the runoff, that person is the party’s nominee. The party has a mechanism to endorse a Republican prior to the June election, but it will be a tall order for a candidate in an open seat to garner that endorsement. A candidate first would need a two-thirds vote from each Republican County Committee that touches the district, and then the CRP Board of Directors would also need to vote to endorse by a two-thirds margin. For the 2014 cycle, the Spence Plan asserts that there will be an all-mail ballot sent to Republican voters in advance of the June election, however there are no specific plans yet on how to implement that vision.
As this was the party’s organizational convention, new statewide and regional officers were elected. The statewide officers are Tom Del Beccaro, chairman, Steve Baric, vice chairman, Patricia Welch, Secretary, and Mike Osborn, treasurer. Only the treasurer’s race was contested, with Osborn defeating former State Senator Ray Haynes.