Monday, March 28, 2011

Sacramento Bee: Dan Walters on today's California GOP

Dan Walters: California GOP hits sharp skid

Published: Monday, Mar. 28, 2011 - 12:00 am | Page 3A
Two sets of official numbers that were released this month should make California's Republican Party leaders – if they exist – very nervous.

First were the results of the 2010 census that confirmed anew the state's incredible demographic and cultural change. California's rapidly aging white population, an overwhelming majority a few decades ago, has now dropped to scarcely 40 percent, while the rapidly growing Latino and Asian populations are now more than 50 percent.

The second set of numbers was a new voter registration report, showing Republicans dropping to 30.9 percent, their lowest level in recorded history, while rival Democrats maintained their share at about 44 percent. The Republican losses have not been gains for Democrats but rather have fueled the sharp growth of independents to about 20 percent.

It's not a stretch to say that the Republican Party, which once dominated California politics and was very competitive into the 1990s, has devolved into a party of rapidly aging white people, and as they disappear, its fortunes may sink further.

Democrats won every statewide election last year, dominate the congressional delegation and are within a couple of seats of achieving two-thirds control of both legislative houses. While the state's new redistricting commission should shift legislative and congressional seats from Democrat-voting coastal counties to Republican-leaning inland areas, it's not likely to result in any major gain of GOP power.

There's more to the Republican decline than demography. The near-demise of the Southern California defense industry after the end of the Cold War sparked an exodus of defense workers out of the state and that, coupled with an inflow of immigrants, shifted the politics of Los Angeles County from party-neutral to strongly Democratic, thus tilting the whole state.

Simultaneously, the state GOP changed itself. What was once a middle-of-the-road party that dominated California as Democrats paddled on the left reconfigured itself into a right-wing party.

The party's stridency on taxes, illegal immigration, abortion and other hot-button issues alienated both white moderates – most noticeably in the suburbs – and the surging numbers of Latino and Asian voters.

The GOP's incoming state chairman, Tom Del Beccaro, acknowledged the party's deterioration during its recent convention in Sacramento.

"We do not pay enough attention to our next generation," Del Beccaro told delegates. "We are not talking to enough minority voters, we are not talking to enough independents and we are not even talking to enough Democrats. Quite frankly, we have trapped ourselves into talking to the converted instead of inspiring a new generation of voters."

Whether he and other party figures do more than talk about it remains to be seen.

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