REPORT FROM CALIFORNIA
Sacramento, Calif.-"Are you coming to the food fight in Sacramento?" a Santa Cruz, Calif., Republican activist e-mailed me a few weeks ago. I knew without any explanation that he was referring to the California GOP convention February 22-24. With more than 1,400 delegates, reporters, and political junkies jamming the Sacramento Hyatt Hotel for the party conclave, the charges and counter-charges surrounding the race for state chairman flew like shrapnel. In the end, Palo Alto lawyer Duf Sundheim won the party helm over Vice Chairman Bill Back in a contest that focused more on style than ideology and in which both candidates maintained they were conservatives (see story on page 8).
With a lower-profile but just as competitive was the race to succeed Back in the Golden State GOP’s No. 2 office. Most elected and party officials on the right had weighed in for Southern California Vice Chairman Lois Godfrey, who had cut her political eyeteeth as a volunteer leader in conservative Bruce Herschensohn’s 1992 U.S. Senate race and, more recently, had joined with outgoing State Chairman Shawn Steel in denouncing controversial new party governing rules crafted by Los Angeles investment banker Gerald Parsky. Godfrey’s opponent was San Clemente businessman Mario Rodriguez, a member of the Lincoln Club-traditionally a haven for more moderate Republicans-who supported the Parsky rules and was critical of Steel’s tenure.
"I don’t really know Mario that well, but I think I’ll support him-we need role models who can reach out to minorities," delegate Jack Ward of Santa Cruz told me a day before the vote. In the end, Rodriguez beat Godfrey, 584 to 545. He now becomes the party’s highest elected Latino since Cuban-born Tirso Del Junco was chairman a decade ago and is in line to become state chairman himself in ’05.
To no one’s surprise, Steel and Parsky continued to snap at each other right up to the end. Two days before he relinquished the party reins, Steel told a packed press conference that if Parsky was "in charge of the Bush [re-election] campaign in California in ’04, it means it will not be a serious effort. If Parsky is not involved, it means it will be a mainstream battleground and [California’s] electoral votes will be up for grabs. . . He was supposed to come in and unite us. He failed to do that. He divided us."
Steel’s swan song also included a lament about the current process of selecting delegates, in which elected officials and candidates for office in the previous election appoint them. Insisting that this process makes the California Republican Party "the most undemocratic of Republican parties anywhere," he contrasted it with state GOP conventions in Texas, with several thousand delegates, and in Virginia, with more than 10,000 delegates last year. Steel called on state legislators to "stop appointing your wives and your family members and try to find people who are emerging leaders in these ethnic communities and bring them into the party."
There were other significant political developments at the Sacramento "food fight," among them. . .
OSE, YES! ISSA, RADANOVICH, MAYBE
Not since Democrat Clair Engle of tiny Red Bluff served in the Senate from 1958-64 has a U.S. senator from the Golden State come from outside the Los Angeles or San Francisco Bay areas. Now, all signs are that Republican Rep. Doug Ose of suburban Sacramento will try to change that next year by taking on Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer.
Having limited himself to three two-year terms in the House during his initial campaign in 1998, wealthy land developer Ose now is at the end of his tenure and poised to go "up or out." Most convention delegates were convinced that he will try to go "up" by seeking the GOP nomination against Boxer (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 2%). Last fall, Ose established an exploratory committee for the Senate race and has retained the Temple-McNally consulting firm, which is closely identified with moderate Republicans. That is a good fit for Ose (lifetime ACU rating: 77%), who takes decidedly non-conservative stands on gun control, abortion, campaign finance "reform," immigration and some spending measures.
Such positions, conservatives say, make the 47-year-old Ose vulnerable to a more right-of-center candidate in the March 2004 primary. That is apparently why Republican Rep. George Radanovich (lifetime ACU rating: 96%) of the San Joaquin Valley and Darrell Issa (lifetime ACU rating: 94%) of San Diego were making Senate-candidate noises at the convention.
"The more I explore this, the more optimistic I get," Radanovich told the Sacramento Bee during the convention. Issa told me that he "has no timetable" on deciding on the Senate race and that he might also consider a bid for governor if incumbent Gray Davis is recalled this fall. In his words. "We have the worst U.S. senator in the nation and the worst governor in the nation."
Postscript: Whether Ose runs for the Senate or not, GOP speculation is already rampant about the 3rd District House seat he has promised to relinquish next year. Conservative State Sen. Rico Oller, who has been in the forefront of opposition to Gov. Davis’s tax increases, told me, "I’m sure going to look at it [the open House district]." Oller, who also takes decidedly conservative positions on social issues, now represents a Senate district that is 80% of Ose’s House district.
The only other Republican so far mentioned as a House candidate in the 3rd is Sacramento County Sheriff Lou Blancas, but many conservatives are put off by Blancas’ habit of seeming to appear and be photographed as frequently as possible with Davis.
SIMON SAYS, ‘JUST WAIT’
Rock stars don’t usually wear wire-rim glasses and Oxford shirts. But conservatively dressed Bill Simon was certainly treated as one during his day-long visit to the Sacramento convention. Three months after Simon’s closer-than-expected loss (47% to 42%) to Gray Davis-with most polls now showing the governor with negative ratings in the 70% range and a recall movement quickly taking shape-Los Angeles attorney/investment counselor Simon was hailed like a political Mick Jagger among his fellow Republicans. As he and wife Cindy made their way through the Hyatt, the namesake-son of the late secretary of the treasury was embraced and kissed by well-wishers, repeatedly asked for his autograph, and encouraged to run for something-anything-soon.
Will he join the Republican pack of would-be opponents to Sen. Boxer, as several media outlets suggested last week? Or is he hoping that the gubernatorial recall movement that he cautiously avoids will succeed and that he will get another crack at ’02 nemesis Davis? After all, his top campaign consultant, Sal Russo, is instrumental in the recall.
"Let’s wait and see," Simon told me, fighting to be heard above the standing-room-only crowd that mobbed his hospitality suite Saturday night. "Right now, I’m just trying to be of service." That was a "Simonism," friends of the former gubernatorial nominee told me, a euphemism for the steps he’s taking to keep his name alive among the party faithful and position himself for either a special gubernatorial race in November or the Senate race next year.
Simon is setting up a political action committee known as the Grassroots Leadership Committee and a 501(c)(3) "think tank" called the Partnership for California’s Future. Like his father during the years he considered a presidential bid before finally endorsing Ronald Reagan in 1980, Simon, Jr. will soon host a nationally syndicated radio show and, he said, "I would like to write some articles for different publications." He added that he "gets about 60 to 70 requests for speaking appearances every three months" and tries to accept two or three dates per week.
Even the most fervent Simon admirers fault him for making some serious errors in his maiden political voyage, but, judging from the response to him in Sacramento, the Republican faithful have forgiven him for these and want him to be a candidate soon again. In fact, a "shadow" campaign operation appeared to surround him. Shortly before the convention opened, 2002 campaign honcho Russo held a reunion at his Sacramento home of what he called "the true believers in Bill, the folks who were with him from Day One last year." Two other alumni of the gubernatorial race-press secretary Bob Taylor and pollster Frank Luntz-were also at Simon’s side, as if he were on the campaign trail again.