Gizzi on Politics Oct. 26, 2009

West Coast Renaissance for the Right

Newport Beach, Calif.—As conference organizer Jim Lacy enthusiastically noted, the Western Conservative Political Action Conference last week drew more than 350 attendees, easily twice the 160 who came to same conclave last year.

But even more significant was the number of people I met there at the Radisson Hotel whom I had never met before. It would be a disturbing sign at any conservative conference to see only the same old faces. But that was certainly not the case at Western CPAC. While there were many familiar conservative stalwarts from the Golden State — such as National Tax Limitation Committee head Lew Uhler, “Flash Report” editor Jon Fleischman, and alumni of the conservative California Republican Assembly — there were legions of young people and first-time attendees at the Radisson.

Villa Park Councilwoman Deborah Pauly, for example, arranged for more than a dozen high school and college-age conservatives to attend the conference. One of them, 19-year-old Tyler Briscoe of Vanguard University, told me he was a conservative because “I believe in personal responsibility. I like working for something rather than having it handed to me.” (Pauly’s conservative up-and-comers are planning a major gathering at a “Bonfire of the Right” October 24 –“ our answer to the ‘fireside chat,’” she quipped.)

“The conservative movement has always been out here, but just not fully activated,” remarked Megan Barth, correspondent for the “Red County” on-line magazine about Orange County and organizer of a Tea Party that drew 5,000 people on September 12. Like other “Tea Party” activists, Barth was attending her first Western CPAC.

And there was political news to be reported…

Upset in Special U.S. House Race November 3?

Newport Beach is nowhere near the 10th U.S. House District, but the special election for the seat of former Democratic Rep. Ellen Tauscher in that Northern California-based district was one of the most talked-of topics at the Western CPAC.

With 17 days to go before the race to replace Tauscher (who resigned to accept a high State Department post earlier this year), the Democratic nominee, Lt. Gov. John Garamendi, made a major stumble. In attacking conservative Republican hopeful David Harmer, a Garamendi mailer charged that the GOP nominee “supports off-shoring jobs.” The mailer cites a Deseret (Utah) News article from 2004 quoting David Harmer, executive director of the state’s Department of Community and Economic Development.

The problem with this attack, noted the Capitol Hill publication The Hill, is that the Garamendi campaign “is attacking the wrong David Harmer.” The David Harmer running for Congress in the November 3 race told reporters it was not him and he wasn’t living in Utah at the time.

Last week one poll showed businessman-lawyer Harmer trailing Garamendi by seven points districtwide.

In a district where most elective offices are held by Democrats and which Tauscher held with little trouble from 1992 until resigning this year, the odds favor Garamendi. But based on the enthusiasm demonstrated for Harmer among California conservatives and the embarrassing erroneous broadside fired against him by the Garamendi team, there are recent signs an upset might be in the works. The Harmer campaign reportedly has a strong get-out-the vote effort in the district’s reliably Republican pockets, such as the area around Travis Air Force Base and in the retirement community of Paradise Valley Estates.

Before his anti-Harmer goof, arch-liberal Garamendi was under fire for his unequivocal support of a healthcare plan that included a “public option.” In the Democratic primary, the lieutenant governor won a plurality over several opponents, all of whom pointed out that he and wife Patty (who has run for Congress in another district) do not live in the 10th.

But given the Democratic history of the 10th, the question kept coming up among the activists at Western CPAC: Does Harmer really have a chance of pulling off a win?

“Yes,” veteran Northern California political consultant and onetime Republican National Committee field man Harvey Hukari told me. “While that issue of residency and charge of carpet-bagging does not in itself defeat candidates in California, it can be powerful if a candidate is already controversial, as Garamendi surely is. And it didn’t help matters when Bill Clinton made an appearance on Garamendi’s behalf and it was held outside the boundaries of the 10th.”  

Tax Issue Still Packs Punch In California

Within a few days, voters in Orange County will know whether embattled Republican State Assemblyman Anthony Adams will be the fifth elected official in California in the last half-century to be recalled. Elected last fall with the support of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and other conservative groups, Adams left his backers speechless in February when he became one of three GOP legislators who voted with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on his proposal to raise state taxes by a record $16 billion. The increases on sales, car, and income taxes and a reduction of the tax credit on children were resoundingly rejected by voters in a statewide initiative later in ’09.)

“For the party of no taxes and smaller government, this was unacceptable,” former State Republican Chairman Mike Schroeder told me. Longtime conservative activist Schroeder was in the forefront of successful efforts to recall two Republican legislators in the early 1990s who had sided with then-Democratic Assembly Speaker Willie Brown over control of the legislature. Now he has donated $25,000 to the effort to recall Adams.  

“Mike and the Atlas PAC have been major forces in the recall,” Jon Coupal of the Jarvis group told me, “And John and Ken

just mentioned what Adams had done and it drew donations by the bagful and petition signers in droves!”  

The signatures of 37,000 registered voters in Adams’ district are required to force a recall of the lawmaker, and Schroeder and other “recallers” have so far turned in more than 62,000. If 37,000 signatures are certified by the secretary of state, the governor must then set a date when voters can decide whether to retain or reject Adams, and then, if they vote to reject, choose from a list of candidates regardless of party to replace him. This is the same process through which Democratic Gov. Gray Davis was recalled in 2003 and voters selected as his replacement Arnold Schwarzenegger.  

Reed Redux

One of the surprise stars of the Western CPAC was Ralph Reed, best-known for making the Christian Coalition a political powerhouse in the 1990’s. The former Georgia State GOP chairman and political consultant followed Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty as a banquet speaker Friday evening and held his audience spellbound — predicting that an Obama Administration that is now “guaranteeing 90% of the mortgages and 80% of the insurance companies in America” would lead to a GOP resurgence in the 2010 elections, creating “a whole new farm team”  

Relatively quiet since his defeat for the GOP nomination for lieutenant governor of Georgia two years ago, Reed is resuming his political role by forming the Faith and Freedom Coalition, a new group to mobilize voters who are “pro-family and pro-freedom.” With 10 million names in the group’s data base already, Reed vowed that his new C-4 would soon be a potent political force.  

“But this is not ‘Christian Coalition 2.0,’” he later told me. “We’re in a new time and it’s a new organization. But I would say a lot of what I learned in the 1990s [with the Christian Coalition] will be applied with new techniques in the 21st Century.” Assisting Reed in his new project are former Minnesota State GOP Chairman Ron Carey, Virginia State Sen. Steve Martin and Jack St. Martin, who headed the coalitions desk at the Republican National Committee.  

At 48 and the father of four, Reed still maintains the youthful appearance that made him an appealing figure on television talk shows. As to how he does it, he explained: “I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I have been married to the same wife for 23 years, and I don’t watch MSNBC.”