State GOP Just Can’t Shake Its Good Ol’ Boy Ways

By Garry South

February 8, 2004

The Sacramento Bee

This just in: Despite Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s election, the California Republican Party remains a Good Ol’ Boys’ Club. And Arnold himself has joined the fraternity.

Recently, the new governor endorsed his first statewide candidate — former Secretary of State Bill Jones for the GOP nomination to face Democratic U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer.

In doing so, he passed over two women contenders, among them Rosario Marin.

Marin, a pro-choice Latina, looks heaven-sent for a party in trouble with Latinos and women. Born in Mexico, she came to the United States at 14, speaking no English. In just four years, she graduated number one in her high school class, then earned a bachelor’s degree by taking night courses at California State University, Los Angeles.

Mother of a Down syndrome child, Marin became an advocate for the disabled in Sacramento, where she caught Gov. Pete Wilson’s eye and was asked to join his staff. She later was elected to the Huntington Park City Council, where she also served as mayor. In 2001, President Bush appointed her treasurer of the United States — making Marin one of the highest-ranking Latinos in the Bush administration.

Marin is a novice at statewide politics. But Jones’ own electoral history is hardly stellar. Running for secretary of state in 1994, he beat the first openly gay statewide nominee of either major party by less than 50,000 votes. In 1998, he was re-elected by barely 1 percent in a race against a 30-year-old, wheelchair-bound woman in her first run for state office.

In the 2002 GOP primary for governor, Jones, the only statewide GOP officeholder, received only 17 percent of the vote against two opponents who had never run statewide before. The latest public polls put him at exactly the same 17 percent in the GOP Senate primary — and at only 35 percent against Boxer.

And with a history as a feeble fund-raiser — even when there were no state donor limits — it’s doubtful he can marshal the millions necessary to take on Boxer under federal caps of $2,000 per contributor.

Oh, and on the issues, Jones is just another cookie-cutter conservative: anti-choice, anti-gun control, anti-environment, anti-consumer rights — the kind of conventional GOP opponent Boxer “has for breakfast,” as Marin has put it.

Schwarzenegger’s decision echoes a spectacularly unimaginative choice by ex-Gov. Pete Wilson, his mentor. In 1991, Gov.-elect Wilson had to appoint a successor to fill his unexpired Senate term.

Democrats feared he might make an out-of-the-box pick that would titillate the political world and redefine the state Republican Party. A black or Latino, perhaps? Maybe even a woman? Wilson said he interviewed nearly two dozen prospects, including “blacks, browns, Asians, Hispanics, men and women.” One was Gaddi Vasquez, a 35-year-old former beat cop and Orange County supervisor considered a rising Latino GOP star. Another intriguing name bandied about was Condoleezza Rice, then a Stanford University political science professor.

But in the end, Wilson chose state Sen. John Seymour, a bland, middle-age white male from Orange County, who, the Los Angeles Times editorialized, would “not strike many as an utterly inspired choice.” Just the previous June, Seymour had been soundly beaten in the GOP primary for lieutenant governor by a woman. But Seymour, a real estate developer and former mayor of Anaheim, was characterized by Wilson as his “political soulmate” (does Wilson have soul?). And the rest, as they say, is history: In 1992 Seymour was blown away by Dianne Feinstein, California’s first woman U.S. senator.

Mars rover to California Republicans: You have a white male problem.

The state GOP has never nominated a woman for governor or U.S. Senate. Its current state Senate caucus consists of 15 middle-age white males. There are only five GOP women in the Assembly. The 20 Republican House members consist of 19 middle-age white males and one woman. The state party is chaired by its fifth-straight middle-age white male — and has never been led by a woman.

Since it’s unlikely either Marin or Jones can beat Boxer — perpetually a top Republican target — wouldn’t California Republicans be better off presenting something other than the umpteenth white male face to the voters of this, the most diverse state in the Union? Schwarzenegger clearly opted not to light the fires of imagination among California voters – especially women and Latinos. Instead, he has become just another cog in the California Republican Ol’ Boys’ Network — and his boy Bill Jones is destined to go down in flames this November.