State Gop Lacks Depth Behind Schwarzenegger

By Garry South

March 6, 2005

The Sacramento Bee

Will there be a “Governator II?” Meaning, of course, will the Terminator sign up for a sequel as governor of California?

For his part, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger says he’s so busy reforming California he can’t even possibly think about a second term right now. And if you’re a California Republican, you certainly don’t want to even think about Arnold not running again.

Despite all the high-fives and self-congratulatory hoopla at the recent state GOP convention, California Republicans are still pretty much a one-man band, even if their lead player — Schwarzenegger — admittedly wields a pretty big tuba.

Consider recent history. Last November, the Republicans lost their fourth straight presidential race in California, this time by 10 percentage points and 1.2 million votes, despite Arnold serving as chair of George W. Bush’s Golden State (non?) campaign.

They lost their sixth straight U.S. Senate race, this one by 20 percentage points and 2.4 million votes. In last fall’s legislative races, even intensive personal campaigning by the popular Schwarzenegger couldn’t dislodge a single Democratic seat. In 2002, Republicans lost all statewide constitutional offices for the first time since 1882.

But the preternaturally pumped-up Republicans believe a new day is in the offing. Why, the Democratic secretary of state just resigned, allowing Schwarzenegger to name his replacement.

And the governor gave the nod to former state Sen. Bruce McPherson, which will increase the GOP share of statewide offices to two out of eight. I guess that’s progress, but I bet in the end it won’t earn anyone a big Schwarzenegger stogie.

Why? The track record of appointed state officials winning office in their own right isn’t stellar. The last person to hold statewide office by dint of appointment was Insurance Commissioner Harry Low, a respected former judge designated by Gov. Gray Davis to replace the disgraced Chuck Quackenbush. Low, assessing the rigors of a run, chose to finish out the latter’s term and not seek election in 2002.

Before that, there was U.S. Sen. John Seymour, Gov. Pete Wilson’s pick to complete his own Senate term. Dianne Feinstein annihilated Seymour in 1992. Then there was Tom Hayes, the earnest and honest former state auditor appointed by Gov. George Deukmejian in 1989 to fill the shoes of the late Treasurer Jesse Unruh. Hayes, seeking voter validation in 1990, was demolished by Kathleen Brown. Going all the way back to 1964, appointed U.S. Senator Pierre Salinger, former press secretary to President John F. Kennedy, got walked all over by a retired tap dancer, George Murphy.

Now, I’ve met McPherson, and he’s a smart, decent guy — a stand-out moderate in a party dominated largely by Luddites and loonies. And if confirmed by the Democratic Legislature, I’m sure he’ll do an admirable job as chief elections official.

But the secretary of state’s post itself isn’t exactly a booster rocket for one’s political career.

Bill Jones held the job for eight years, and was the only state official to send out voter pamphlets with his moniker on the cover to every single registered voter for four straight election cycles. But running for governor in the GOP primary in 2002, he garnered just 17 percent of the vote. As the Republican U.S. Senate candidate last fall, Jones became the first major-party senatorial nominee since the advent of TV political advertising to fail to air a single spot in this biggest media state of all.


And amid all the huzzahs, some Republicans would also like to forget that McPherson has run statewide before, and muffed his first and so far only outing, losing to — of all people — Cruz Bustamante for lieutenant governor in 2002. His percentage actually was less than that of Bill Simon, the hapless victim of the unpopular Gray Davis in 2002.

McPherson does nothing to solve another major problem state Republicans have — the surfeit of white male officeholders. Look at the numbers. California Republicans hold 70 state offices — 20 members of the 53-member California congressional delegation, the governorship, 15 state Senate seats out of 40, 32 of the 80 Assembly seats, and two of four elected Board of Equalization seats.

Of those 70 officeholders, 60 are white males; only 10 are women or folks of color. The GOP Senate caucus comprises 14 white men and one lonely Hispanic guy. The GOP members of Congress consist of 19 middle-aged white males and one white woman. And, of course, I could point out that Schwarzenegger himself is also — shhhh — a middle-aged white male.

The prospects for 2006 aren’t looking much more, well, colorful or co-ed. The only announced GOP candidate for lieutenant governor is state Sen. Tom McClintock of Thousand Oaks, another white male. State Sen. Chuck Poochigian of Fresno — another openly white male — is already running full tilt for attorney general. And there are no less than three white males who’ve said they’re going for treasurer, including Simon. No woman has yet tried to crash this stag party.

And now, as they say, here’s the really bad news: If Schwarzenneger ultimately opts not to seek a second term, the next logical candidate in the pipeline is none other than McClintock, a right-winger who makes Simon and 1998 GOP gubernatorial nominee Dan Lungren seem like Democratic Leadership Council moderates by comparison.

Some polls suggest McClintock has 80 percent statewide name ID, and he can call on a nationwide network of conservative donors to bankroll a campaign. But the lad’s already got three electoral strikes: he lost for controller in 1994, again in 2002 and got just 13 percent of the vote running for governor in the 2003 recall. Seventy-six trombones led the big parade, as the old song goes. But other than Arnold, California Republicans have yet to convince anyone but themselves that they’ve got the talent to fill out even a wind quintet.