Gizzi on Politics: Heading West During Bailout Build-up

Anaheim, Calif. — Last weekend, I was keeping abreast of the fast-breaking developments in Congress with the proposed $700 billion financial bailout package, but I was doing so from across the country at the Anaheim Marriott where California Republicans were holding the second of their twice-a-year state party conventions. Most of the action centered on intra-party maneuvering and the continuing clash between moderate-to-liberal Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the increasingly conservative party activists who dominated the convention. Among the developments…

CAL GOPers on Taxes and The Terminator

This California Republican State Convention came at an uncomfortable time for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Last month, after weeks of disagreement with the governor, the Correctional Peace Officers Association launched a petition drive to recall Schwarzenegger (who came to office in ’03 following a successful recall movement against then-Democratic Gov. Gray Davis). Remembering the vote that replaced Davis with Schwarzenegger, former Republican Gov. (1990-98) Pete Wilson warned the convention in his luncheon address not to take lightly the latest recall drive.  

But many of those I talked to at the Anaheim Marriott didn’t really care about what happens to Schwarzenegger. Whether the issue is abortion or gay rights or global warming, there is usually a wide chasm between “the Governator” and most of the largely conservative group at the party conclave. As one of the conventioneers who attended Schwarzenegger’s dinner address Friday evening said to me, “I was starting to warm up to John McCain, but now I’m suspicious after I heard Arnold start to sing his praises.” But GOP leaders also went on record at the convention to demonstrate that they are coming from a direction very different from their governor’s. At a meeting of the party’s Board of Directors, a resolution was introduced praising Republican state legislators for opposing tax increases — an unmistakable reference to the recent efforts of Schwarzenegger to secure a 14% sales tax increase and the successful thwarting of this by lawmakers of his own party.  

Schwarzenegger’s allies on the committee — notably former State Party Chairman Duf Sundheim and Luis Buehler of Northern California — spoke out against the measure. They went as far as to remove the language referring to the governor, suggesting it was a slight to him, which, of course, is potentially explosive considering the Correctional Peace Officers Association’s recall campaign.  

Other conservatives, while obviously taking different stances from Schwarz­enegger, nonetheless felt it was inappropriate to be seen in another camp than the governor of their own party.

But the conservative-run Executive Board of Directors wasn’t buying this and, by a 12-to-4 vote, endorsed the resolution hailing the anti-tax lawmakers. As to whether it was an insult to Schwarzenegger, Jon Fleischman, editor of the influential “Flash Report” on-line newsletter and vice chairman of the state GOP for the South, told me, “It was about our conservative legislators and not about the governor at all. If we really wanted to criticize the governor, he’s given conservatives plenty of ammunition. A board colleague wrote this resolution. My version would have been less kind to Arnold.”  

Cal Romney Chairman May Not Support McCain

A well-known figure in California Republican Party circles who was also Mitt Romney’s campaign chairman in the Golden State revealed to me during the convention that he may not support or even vote for Republican nominee John McCain.  

“I haven’t said anything about supporting McCain after he wrapped up the nomination because I’m not sure of it,” attorney Mike Schroeder, a former state party chairman and onetime head of the conservative California Republican Assembly volunteer group, told me over lunch during a break in the convention.  

Schroeder explained that “McCain wants amnesty for illegal immigrants, always says that a tax increase has to be on the table, and was wrong on judges when he was part of the ‘Gang of Fourteen’ in the Senate.”

When I mentioned that many conservatives I interviewed during the national party convention in St. Paul had said “all is forgiven” with McCain after he named Sarah Palin as a running mate, Schroeder made it clear that this was not the case with him. “When you look at his overall record and all the things he has done that aren’t conservative,” he said, “you then want me to forgive him because of this one move he’s made — picking a Vice President?”  

A staunch conservative who backed Texas Sen. Phil Gramm for President in 1996 and was an early backer of George W. Bush in 2000, Schroeder said he has not discussed his present view on the race with his pro-McCain candidate Romney, who addressed the convention banquet Saturday evening.  

As for the argument that a “President Obama” with a Democratic Congress could do some terrible things as far as conservatives are concerned, Schroder was unimpressed. In his view, “That might also do what it did for Republicans when Bill Clinton was president for the first two years and Democrats controlled Congress. It got our members in Congress acting like conservatives again.”  

Marriage Down

One of the most curious developments at the Anaheim convention was the relatively little discussion of the pro-traditional marriage Proposition 8 that is on the November ballot. A just-completed Public Policy Institute of California (PPI) poll showed the initiative, which would negate the state Supreme Court ruling permitting same-sex marriage and define marriage in the state as a union between a man and a woman, was trailing 54% to 40% statewide.  

While most conventioneers I spoke to favor the initiative, many of them privately concede that the effort behind passage is not as organized or funded as the “No” forces. Barack Obama and Gov. Schwarzenegger have recently weighed in against the measure, while John McCain has said he favors it.