With the help of a good friend, I attended my first California Republican Party Convention, and the bi-annual CA GOP meet-and-greet in Anaheim, CA did not disappoint for this erstwhile inactive California conservative. Despite having Disneyland in the background, and tourists flocking from everywhere, I found the happiest place on earth to be with fellow Republicans unifying for future victories.
Anyone who has declared the CA GOP a dead afterthought will find a party alive and well. California Republicans have a lot to celebrate. For the first time in decades, Republicans unseat Democratic incumbents up and down the state. In the assembly and the state senate, Republican legislators locked hands and stopped increased taxes and fees. They deserve our respect and were duly recognized in key dinner functions on day one. Retiring assembly minority leader Kristen Olsen greeted me, as did former Congressman Ernie Konnyu (who for now has ruled out running for US Senate).
Fresh from these 2014 victories, which ended with liberal supermajorities and achieved major inroads with minority voters, Golden State Republicans are retooling for new fights, gaining ground statewide, and also in local government. Unlike some participants, I focused on gleaning as much information as I could on winning local elections. Conservative policy can turn into statewide purpose and victory, but must start at the local level. From data sessions to forums on branding and organization, I got schooled on winning at home before going abroad. California Republicans dominate non-partisan offices throughout the state, due to our naturally inclined strengths on accountability, government transparency, and law enforcement, and can turn these victories toward long-term successes.
Throughout the convention, unity and victory remained major themes, especially through minority outreach.
One man who helped crystallized these successes, physicist turned GOP donor Charles Munger, helped explain in one session one amazing victory in East Bay, Northern California, a region normally far outside the Republican Party’s window of opportunity. Chairman Jim Brulte (a legislator-turned-party executive who has seen it all and seeing to so much more) kept an helpful on everything. An assorted who’s-who in California conservative corridors (including Jon Fleischman of Flash Report) traveled throughout making contacts.
To my dismay, presidential contender Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker canceled his appearance at the Friday headline dinner, but no worries. I want a President Walker rather than a Keynote speaker who never sets foot in the White House. Former UN Ambassador John Bolton took his place, and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee turned out to headline the Friday dinner.
The best part of the festivities included meeting so many minority Republicans, especially Chinese-Americans and Filipino conservatives, and many Latinos opposed to amnesty. The Filipino caucus even hosted a hospitality reception, where I met committed movers and shakers within this Asian-American community. We all agreed that more outreach is necessary. Naturally-born and traditionally inclined as conservatives, many Filipinos unfortunately still identify as Democrats, but more of them are voting Republican.
By the way, the most Filipino city in California, and the country, is right in my South Bay home, in Carson, California. Currently, Democratic city leadership have all but turned this otherwise wealthy and thriving community into a laughing-stock “Banana Republic.” A nice dose of Republican leadership at the helm could bring necessary restoration and improvement to the city’s public image, but restore the once-strong and stable influence of the Republican Party among Asian-Americans in California and throughout Los Angeles County.
There were other telling surprises for me, too. A number of Republican US Senate candidates aiming to replace Barbara Boxer showed up. My current favorite? Former CA GOP Chairman Duf Sundheim, who assisted the 2003 recall to throw out Gray Davis. An affable and friendly man who answered all my questions, he agreed with me and stood with Kim Davis (“She should have been accommodated”). He supports secure borders and E-verify. He recognizes this country’s frustrating battle ahead over federal entitlements. Most importantly, he is listening, seeking consensus rather than confrontation among GOP voters.
My second surprise? Meeting the retiring (but hardly shy) Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich, a conservative’s conservative in liberal Los Angeles. He spear-headed investigations into welfare abuse in Los Angeles County (especially among illegal aliens). He also voted against granting taxpayer-funded health insurance to the same. Termed-out, but not tuned out, he is running for state senate next year, and he has my full support, as well as the growing Asian-American communities throughout the San Gabriel valley.
My favorite part of the convention? While attending a forum to discuss amendments to the party’s immigration platform (which maintains opposition to amnesty while implementing a rhetoric of respectful inclusion), I met the Fresno, CA dairy farmer who drove a long-time Democratic incumbent crazy, nearly replaced him in the House last year, and thus shocked the political establishment: Johnny Tacherra (see us in the picture above). He represents the new face and spirit of the California Republican Party: diverse and principled, conservative and pragmatic, aware of the needs of everyday folks, not afraid of the long fight ahead, forging unity even among disaffected Democrats who want real leadership.
For decades, Republicans in California fought each other over ideological niceties, missing the big picture and losing elections in the process. At my first GOP Convention, a number of well-connected participants indicated to me the (surprising) lack of drama combined with a commitment to better branding and outreach, all of which implied that Republicans are not just here to stay, but to stay above the fray within and make their way without.
At my first GOP convention, I learned about victory through unity amid ethnic diversity, which conservatives need to master to win again. The echo chamber is not enough, and shouting matches win us nothing. I met good friends, learned better ideas, and all in all had a great time. Next year, I hope that Chairman Brulte hosts the CA GOP convention in Torrance, and more of fellow South Bay Republicans can learn how to win in Los Angeles and throughout the Golden State.