How Goes California GOP?

Los Angeles, Calif.—Meeting last week at the Century Plaza Hotel (“Ronald Reagan’s favorite hotel,” as I was frequently reminded), the California Republican State Convention was focused primarily on securing a full term for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Nonetheless, a number of conservatives I spoke with were still miffed at the governor for naming liberal Democrat Susan Kennedy as his chief of staff last year and for embracing increased state spending on infrastructure. As conservative Mike Der Manouel told me the morning after Schwarzenegger’s convention speech, “I waited so long for the ‘red meat’ in his speech that my stomach growled.” But for the most part, the predominantly conservative conventioneers, whatever their opinion of Schwarzenegger’s politics, signaled their intent to campaign for him if for no other reason than fear of putting his arch-liberal Democratic opponent, State Treasurer Phil Angelides, in charge in Sacramento.

Conservatives are also heartened by the fact that most of Schwarzenegger’s GOP ticket mates this fall come from the ranks of “us guys.” State Senators Tom McClintock and Chuck Poochigian, the nominees for lieutenant governor and attorney general respectively, former State Assemblyman Tony Strickland (comptroller), and Michele Steel (state Board of Equalization) were all given heroes’ welcomes when they arrived at the GOP meeting. As Orange County Party Chairman Scott Baugh put it, the conservatives’ hope is “that we will have a bench ready for 2010 when Schwarzenegger [if re-elected this year] must step down from the governorship.”

Among other political developments from the Golden State. . .

Lieberman’s West Coast ‘Right Flank’

“I’m supporting Joe Lieberman, and this weekend, in fact, I’m going to send him a $1,000 check.”

So Bruce Herschensohn informed me over dinner at the Smokehouse Restaurant in Burbank on August 19. Not only did the 1992 Republican U.S. Senate nominee back liberal Democrat-turned-Independent Sen. Lieberman in his bid for re-election in Connecticut, but Herschensohn also pointed out that he “strongly disagreed with the editorial criticism of him I have been reading lately in Human Events.” [ The previous issue had delineated Lieberman’s left-wing voting record.]

A day before, former State Republican Chairman Shawn Steel told me at breakfast in Westwood that he was also sending a $1,000 personal check to the 2000 Democratic nominee for Vice President.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich has also weighed in for Lieberman, who was recently defeated for renomination to a fourth term by even more liberal anti-Iraq War Democrat Ned Lamont.

The conservative credentials of all three California Republicans for Lieberman are gilt-edged, but none of the three appeared bothered by the fact that there is a conservative GOP nominee in the Connecticut race, former Derby Mayor Alan Schlesinger, or that, aside from the Iraq War, the 63-year-old Lieberman votes almost identically to Democrat Massachusetts Senators Ted Kennedy or John Kerry in the Senate.

“It’s all about the war on terror,” Steel told me, “There are very few prominent Democrats to support the effort. Joe Lieberman’s defeat would be a defeat for America.”

Steel added that he felt, by denying Lieberman renomination, Democrats were repeating the process of moving to the far left that they went through with the nomination of anti-war Democrat George McGovern for President in 1972 (and which led conservative and moderate Democrats to move in large numbers to the Republican Party). In Steel’s words, “The Democrats are self-destructing again” and ventured that Lieberman’s re-election as an independent could “lead to his reconsidering stands he used to have that pleased conservatives such as school choice or a re-examination of affirmative action.”

Herschensohn dismissed the recent documentation of Lieberman’s overall left-of-center voting record in Human Events. “If we don’t win the war on terror, the other issues won’t matter much,” the former Nixon White House aide told me, “Joe Lieberman went out on a limb for the President on the most important issue of our time and paid a heavy price for it. Conservatives who support the war should not abandon him now.” While many conservatives might agree with this sentiment, they do not understand how supporting Lieberman rather than the Republican candidate will help prevent the Democrats from taking control of the Senate.

Rogan to the Bench

Gov. Schwarzenegger did win strong applause from conservatives with a recent appointment: He put former Rep. (1996-2000) Jim Rogan (R.-Calif.), famed as a House manager during the Clinton impeachment trial of 1999, on the superior court in Orange County.

One of the criticisms of Schwarzenegger I have heard most often at the GOP state conventions has been that he has given too many judicial appointments to Democrats and independents rather than Republicans.

Calling judicial appointments “the most lasting legacy a governor can leave the state,” Steve Frank, veteran conservative activist and former parliamentarian to the state GOP, told me: “The governor’s appointments leave much to be desired. When he names Rose Villar, the sister of [Los Angeles’ Democratic Mayor] Antonio Villaraigosa to the Superior Court, something’s wrong.”

Such concerns led to action at the last state convention, held in San Jose earlier this year. With Steve Baric, chairman of the California Republican Lawyers Association leading the charge, the San Jose convention passed a resolution calling on Schwarzenegger to appoint more Republicans to the bench.

“Before our resolution, the criticism of the governor was probably on target—I’d say his appointments to the Superior Court were about 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans,” Baric told me. “But since then, he’s been naming more prosecutors and fewer public defenders to the Superior Court. I’d say it is now about 70-30 Republicans he’s named.”