I am neither a registered Democrat, nor a Republican. Like a significant number of other Californians, I register as “decline-to-state.” It’s a fancy way of saying I am an Independent. I am beholden to no party; and no party is beholden to me.
I do this for professional reasons as a journalist and political analyst. I also do it for personal reasons, because I am fairly centrist in a lot of my own views. I often vote for the person I believe will be the best leader, rather than just by party. Consequently, I have voted for Democrats, Republicans, Greens and a few Independents in my thirty-one years of casting ballots.
I mention this because I am not shy about speaking out when I believe any particular party is making a grave mistake. Such is the case with the California Republican Party, which this weekend voted to censure six members who voted for the finally-approved (and very late) $42 billion-dollar state budget.
There is nothing wrong with compromising--in the end. Republicans fought a good fight and gained some major concessions in the budget battle. A twelve-cents-a-gallon gas tax increase was scrapped; and there will be an item on the ballot in 2010 that will allow an open primary system in California, under which any voter can vote for any candidate in any party. Now I support that. In my travels during 2008, I found that Wisconsin and Virginia were among the states which allowed an open primary.
In places such as California, only registered Republicans can vote in the Republican Primary; and only registered Democrats, in the Democratic Primary. This is unfair and cumbersome, especially when you have good candidates on both sides. There was a certain Republican I wanted to vote for in the primary, for example, so I had to go to the courthouse and change my registration for one election and then drive there again to change it back to “decline-to-state.” An open primary system may allow for more moderates to be elected to the state legislature, which might be better than the wide extremes we have in Sacramento right now.
Six Republicans approved the budget and gained these compromises. It was no small accomplishment. The thanks they received was to have their own party turn against them. Republicans in California are starting to act like...well, like Democrats! The Democrats have the grander tradition of cannibalizing their own in this country, with the 1968 and 1972 Presidential nominating processes as textbook examples.
Will Rogers used to joke: “I am not a member of any organized political party. I’m a Democrat!” Now California Republicans seem to want to steal that mantle. They are badly in the minority in the state legislature; and the Congressional delegation is a strong majority of Democrats, too! How do you rebuild the state Republican Party, when you beat up on your own members? The reprimand may be a hollow gesture in the long run, as only five of the six punished are up for reelection next year.
The measure left the party sharply divided this weekend. Here is an excerpt from the "San Francisco Chronicle":
"'If you take a no-tax pledge and you vote for taxes, then you are being divisive, because you know exactly what the consequences are going to be,' said Jon Fleischman, a party vice-chairman from Southern California, who introduced the measure.
"But not all Republicans felt the party needed to take a zero-tolerance approach that could further push the party into an ideological corner. 'It's meanspirited,' said Helen Najar, a delegate from the Los Angeles area. 'I think it's time to move forward. At the end of the day, we had six legislators that didn't have a lot of options'."
The year 2010 will be critical for California Republicans. Governor Schwarzenegger is termed out, and it looks like a wide-open battle in both parties to succeed him. The GOP has a good shot at retaining the Governor’s mansion with prominent candidates such as Meg Whitman (who founded EBay) and Steve Poizner (who already holds statewide office). So the Republicans need to unify rather than self-destruct. Fight the good fight, gain some key concessions and then compromise. This state was in gridlock during the long budget standoff, and it was time to bring it to an end and move on.
Minority parties need to know “when to hold ‘em, and when to fold ‘em.” Three key Republican Senators in Washington were able to exact 14 billion dollars in cuts to the stimulus package before finally agreeing to vote “Yes.” It’s far from a perfect bill; but they got concessions which--it is hoped-- will slow down some runaway spending. Maybe they could have held out for more. Who knows?
In California, the budget standoff was beginning to damage the state economically. Construction projects were halted, and jobs were lost. The budget battle was making things worse, not better. Republicans who compromised simply extracted from their opposition what they thought was the best deal they could get. They stood firm for a long time. They should be praised for it, not punished.
In other news, my book is proving very popular; and sales are steady. “Age of Obama: A Reporter’s Journey with Clinton, McCain and Obama in the Making of the President 2008” is available by clicking on the blue book button on the right side of this screen.