A CONVENTION TO REMEMBER
Los Angeles, Calif.-The twice-a-year state conventions of the California Republican Party-January in the North, September in the South-are, save for contested elections every two years for the chairmanship and other statewide offices, mainly functions at which the party faithful can socialize. Attendance is usually low and media coverage is relatively slim.
Not so at the Los Angeles Airport Marriott last week. With the Golden State and much of the nation transfixed with the recall election for governor October 7-depending on what the courts finally decide-the GOP conclave was, according to State Party Executive Director Mike Vallante, “the largest state convention in anyone’s memory.” More than 2,500 delegates and other activists gathered at the hotel to cheer on Republican gubernatorial hopefuls Arnold Schwarzenegger and Tom McClintock (see coverbox). All three of the Republicans vying for nomination to oppose Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer next year-former U.S. Treasurer Rosario Marin, former Los Altos Mayor Toni Casey, and State Assemblyman Tony Strickland-vigorously worked the crowd. Rep. Darrell Issa, whose $1.1 million made the recall happen, was the guest of honor at the opening night banquet and given a rousing welcome by conventioneers. Gerald Parsky, the President’s closest political friend in California, hosted a private reception for selected reporters; “Everything’s off the record here,” Parsky cheerily said as he greeted his guests.
While past conventions drew perhaps 10 or 15 reporters (and sometimes I was the only national correspondent in attendance), Cheryl Lombard, who oversaw the pressroom, informed me when I picked up my credentials that “about 250 reporters have registered for the convention.” Among the national reporters who made the convention beat last week were Harold Meyerson of the Washington Post, Candy Crowley of CNN, John Fund of the Wall Street Journal, and nationally syndicated columnist Robert Novak.
This was truly an unusual convention and here are some of the highlights:
THE LAST RALLY
More than 900 cheering participants came to the environs of the famous Queen Mary in Long Beach September 13th for the final “Recall Rally”-the last gathering of the group that started it all, “RecallGrayDavis.com.” KSFO (San Francisco) Radio talk show hostess Melanie Morgan, whose casual mention of a possible recall of Gov. Davis on her morning program eight months ago was the genesis of the movement, was given a heroine’s welcome. Former Republican State Assemblyman and stalwart conservative Howard Kaloogian of San Diego, the principal organizer of the first of the three recall committees, emceed the event, which featured rock ‘n roll music and a team of mimes spoofing Davis.
At a time when friend and foe alike credit Darrell Issa and the Rescue California operation that he funded with delivering the signatures necessary to trigger the recall, Morgan, Kaloogian, and Sacramento political consultant Sal Russo-who were midwives to the original recall movement-are often overlooked by pundits and pols. This rally, the last in a string of similar events from Sacramento to San Diego over the last eight months, was their farewell party.
Inevitably, they are asked if they would have been successful in getting the recall on the ballot had not Issa provided the funding and the tools in August to make it happen. “If Darrell had not come along, someone else would have come in with the money and it would have happened,” Morgan told me. Russo said that, without Issa’s funding, “the recall would have taken place, but the necessary signatures would have been turned in later than August. So we would have been looking at a recall [on the day of the presidential primary] March 2,2004. ” (Our conversation took place, of course, before the three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, at least temporarily, actually ordered the recall delayed until that date.)
Among the speakers lustily cheered by the crowd were State Sen. Tom McClintock, the leading conservative gubernatorial hopeful this year, and ’02 gubernatorial nominee Bill Simon, Jr., who had dropped out of this year’s race so as not to divide the Republican vote. The day before, Simon told me, “It was the right decision [for him to withdraw] and someone ultimately still needs to get out.” While he did not specify who [McClintock?] he thought needs to do this, the former nominee and Los Angeles investment banker underscored his view that the thought of electing Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante governor is “scary. “He’s proposing an $8-billion tax increase when we are on the verge of where New York City was in 1975-76, when the credit window was shut. Anyone who says we’re turning the corner is full of beans!”
Simon has a forthcoming book Solutions, Not Slogans that spells out his formula for reviving California. Operating through his own political action committee, Simon is staying involved in politics and has not ruled out a bid for the Senate in either ’04 or ’06. Are Schwarzenegger and McClintock calling him for an endorsement, I asked? “Both of them are-about every other day!” he replied with a laugh.
“I am completely against the idea of a recall, and I will definitely vote ‘no’ when the time ultimately comes to do so. Gray Davis was voted in fairly and squarely, and without question, should be allowed to serve out his term to the best of his ability. Let me vote him out next time if I so choose, but the majority has spoken for this term and he should be kept on..”
So said Lisa Beach, award-winning casting director of About Schmidt, An American Wedding, and other motion pictures, over dinner with three friends at Dan Tanna’s Restaurant in Hollywood on Friday, September 12. (Also at the table were actresses Jeanine Jackson and Charla Bowersox, who refused to say how they would vote and only voiced the view that they were “tired of people always talking about” the recall).
The following day, at the convention pressroom, I sat down with Dick Rosengarten, co-publisher of the much-read California Political Week and, it turned out, a friend of Beach.
“Lisa’s taking what’s called ‘the Feinstein stand,'” Rosengarten explained to me, recalling how Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D.-Calif.) has urged Golden State voters to stand by Davis with a “no” vote on recall as well as abstaining from voting for a single one of the 135 alternative governors. Various visiting Friends of Gray, including Bill and Hillary Clinton have condemned the recall, but almost none have gone the extra mile like Feinstein and such black Democratic leaders as Reps. Maxine Waters and Dianne Watson and advocated the additional step of not voting on the second question-which means denying a vote to lone Democratic heavyweight Bustamante.
Veteran prognosticator Rosengarten agreed that the Feinstein stance could produce a net loss of support for Bustamante. But, he quickly added, “It’s the intellectually honest position.”
ARE THEY “ARNOLDCRATS?”
Part of the attraction of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s gubernatorial candidacy, many GOP fans say, is that the action star a will cause fresh voters to register. Schwarzenegger himself underscores the importance of voting, and canvassers comb his large rallies as well as gyms in search of potential voters to sign up. Frequently, an analogy is made to his old motion picture co-star and fellow strongman Jesse Ventura, who was elected governor of Minnesota on the Reform Party ticket in 1998 in large part because of a relatively high number of first-time voters-most of them 18-to-21 years old.
The difference, however, is that Minnesota permitted voters to register on the same day as an election. California does not allow “same-day voting” and instead closes the registration window 15 days before the recall election.
So, is a tidal wave of outsiders forming to vote next month? The evidence indicates that it isn’t: According to a just-completed Los Angeles Times poll, only 2% of likely voters October 7 will be first-time voters-a small portion of the 7% of first-time voters measured in the same poll in the regular gubernatorial balloting last November.
Nonetheless, the number of registered voters has certainly increased, As of August 8, the secretary of state’s office reported that 44% of California’s registered voters were Democrats, 35% were Republicans, and 16% refused to state a party affiliation. But in the four months ending August 31, GOP officials told the Times, 80,000 new voters registered as Republicans, compared to only 20,000 newly-enfranchised Democrats. The GOP has made particular gains in Orange, Ventura, Fresno, and Riverside counties.
Whether these new voters are “Arnoldcrats” who will be pivotal to the election is still unknowable. As Lorelai Kinder, former executive director of the state GOP and a seasoned observer of the California scene, told me: “It’s fine to see new voters. But let’s see if they actually turn out to vote.”