Former lieutenant governor Abel Maldonado filed papers this week to explore a run for Governor in 2014. Already, noise is being made in Republican Party ranks to position Maldonado to appeal to the crucial Hispanic vote in California. Fred Davis, media advisor to Maldonado stated, “There’s just something about him that is the American dream.”
The Republican Party in California dreadfully needs to influence Hispanic voters to their cause if they are to have any relevance in California politics – and they know it. However, the party seems to be at odds with the real issues that beset California voters, including the Hispanic population. It’s not race that matters in these elections. It’s not a Hispanic issue that is at stake. It’s not about one demographic subset. It’s the ability to tackle the economic downturn, return jobs to California, deal with immigration, education, and budget deficits that is important. Is it any wonder that amidst economic uncertainty and record high unemployment the electorate is weary of a party that can only produce tax cuts and deregulation from their war chest? In the face of an immigration crisis is it any wonder that California voters have fled from a party that proposes self-deportation as key to a comprehensive overhaul of immigration policy? Is it any wonder that in the face of record deficits the public decry measures to protect tax breaks for the wealthy? There is more than a messaging problem with these policies. Not only is the Republican Party failing spectacularly at communicating to the California voter why these policies are fair and in the best interests of the average voter, but they are also failing to hear the public and respond to what they believe is fair and in their best interests.
California voters want elected representatives that are responsive to their concerns. When the economy is mired in recession and unemployment is high voters expect policymakers to act to stave off the ill effects to business and jobs. A party that proposes self-regulation and free market principles can seem unresponsive and indifferent to voters in times of economic crisis.
In recent weeks the Republican Party has engaged in some soul searching to understand their recent losses and to seek an enlightened way forward. A commissioned study revealed the need to develop “a more welcoming brand of conservatism that invites and inspires new people to visit us.” There is a danger that may be inherent in this approach. It sounds vague. At worst it sounds deceptive; another ruse to repackage old wine and sell it in new bottles. Well, California voters are very sensitive to foolery in politics and historically have not been very accommodating to stale ideology however it has been packaged. After all, it was the California voter that recalled a popularly elected governor less than 1 year after re-election due to a failure to respond to the desires of a demanding electorate.
What the Republican Party needs is a comprehensive reform of strategy that connects people with policy. No gimmicks, no dogma. In order to be innovative and responsive to the needs of California voters the party needs to shed its association with the policies of the national party. A nation of 50 sovereign states needs political parties that are responsive and adaptive to the needs of citizens in the respective states. Policies that are designed to appeal to mass audiences across the spectrum of voters in the country typically do not fare well in California. Ours is a state that leads trends in political movements and is often seen as a bellwether state in innovative political thought. The party that can tap into the mood of the California voter and move away from political gridlock that too often defines national politics will find strong support among California’s growing independent voter bloc that now outnumber either Republicans or Democrats.
The Republican Party has a choice in California. It can either respond to the growing call for innovation to deal with a rapidly changing state and develop policies that can respond to the needs of a diverse and modern state, or it can continue to lose relevance in the modern political debates. Either way, the issue that it now faces is not one about race. Abel Maldonado will be well positioned to understand that a future campaign for the governorship of California will rest squarely on the shoulders of responsive policies for a modern and rapidly changing California.