SACRAMENTO (AP/KCBS) - As expected, California Republicans elected Lafayette attorney Tom Del Beccaro its new party chairman on Sunday, the final day of the group's contentious weekend spring convention in Sacramento.
Del Beccaro told delegates that the state GOP has become the "party of limited communication" and needs to engage better with minorities and younger voters. The party's base is trending older and whiter, while U.S. Census data released earlier this month show Latinos and Asians are the fastest-growing segment of California's population and now account for roughly half the state's residents.
"We've talked ourselves into talking to the converted instead of inspiring a new generation of voters," Del Beccaro said. "We need a very focused message if we are going to reach these people, and we do not have that focused message."
"It's interesting, I was talking with him about that and he said listen, basically what we do as Republicans is talk to each other, you know, we don't really reach out to Democrats, we don't really reach out to Independents, they're not reaching out to the immigrant communities, they're just sitting around talking with each other," KCBS and Chronicle Insider Phil Matier theorized. "And they grow smaller and there's a smaller number of them doing the talking."
KCBS and Chronicle Insider Phil Matier Comments:
A controversial party resolution that would have branded any Republican lawmaker as a traitor for agreeing to let voters consider Gov. Jerry Brown's plan to ask voters to extend sales, income and vehicle taxes for five years was withdrawn. But on Sunday, party delegates voted to oppose "any tax extension, new tax or tax increase by the Legislature that is placed on the ballot between now and the next convention" in the fall.
Party activists had shown their contempt over the weekend for a group of rank-and-file Republican lawmakers who have been negotiating with Brown, a Democrat, over his plan to close California's $26.6 billion deficit. The governor wants the tax extensions, along with $12.5 billion in spending cuts.
Del Beccaro told reporters later that he thinks Republican lawmakers should be talking with Brown "and seeing if he is serious about reform," but he stopped short of endorsing a compromise that would put the tax extensions before voters.
"They may be talking about putting it on the ballot. That doesn't mean they want to raise taxes," Del Beccaro said. "And if a tax is put on the ballot, I will work every day to defeat that. That is a policy that will make things worse for California, not better."
"Tom's a very smart guy and he says he needs to reach out to more people and he wants the party to stop being the party of no," Matier pointed out. "Ironically, one of the biggest things they're saying right now is no to the idea of having voters have the say on those tax extensions. They're dead set against them and they don't even want them going to the ballot."
"So it's kind of a split," Matier continued. "Your message is you don't want to be the party of no, but the first thing coming out of their mouth is no."
The newly-elected party chairman unveiled three new websites he said are intended to hold Brown accountable for his election promise to create jobs and said he would travel around the state pushing that message. Del Beccaro said the party would hold a press conference every two weeks to ask "Where are the jobs, Jerry Brown?"
Also on Sunday, California Republicans approved a compromise that leaves in place the current nominating system for GOP candidates in 2012 and will let party members use mail-in balloting to endorse candidates for office starting in 2014.
The party was beset by infighting during the convention over how to respond to Proposition 14, the voter-approved ballot measure that was intended to produce more moderate candidates for office from both political parties. Under that system, the top two candidates advance to the general election, regardless of party affiliation.
The GOP delegates on Sunday passed a plan that calls on the party to let members vote by mail to nominate candidates, starting in 2014. It was unclear how the vote-by-mail process will occur, how much it will cost or whether it will have any real effect on campaigns by discouraging other Republicans from aggressively contesting primary seats.
Delegates rejected a more conservative plan that could have allowed small groups of local party officials - who are the most actively involved in internal party politics and campaigning - to decide the nominees. Instead, they opted to rely on the system currently used for special election candidates until the mail-in system takes effect in 2014.
Under the special-election candidates system, local officials can endorse a candidate by a two-thirds majority of all central committee members in a district.
The compromise plan was endorsed by most of California's GOP congressional delegation and Republican state lawmakers. U.S. Rep. Tom McClintock backed the amendment as a way to "restore the role of the rank-and-file Republican voters."
"I think it will be the great revival of the Republican Party in California," he told a committee debating the competing plans late Saturday night.
The top-two primary system, which is getting its first test in special elections this year, and California's independent citizens' redistricting commission, which takes the role of drawing legislative and congressional boundaries away from the Legislature, promise to scramble California's political map and have forced both major parties to reconsider their campaign strategies for 2012 and beyond.
About 1,000 GOP delegates meeting Sunday also voted to oppose two measures scheduled for the next statewide ballot, which would be in February 2012 unless the Legislature calls a special election before then. One would boost taxes on cigarettes by $1 a pack to fund cancer research, while the other would alter legislative term limits by allowing future lawmakers to serve up to 12 years in one house. Under current law, they are limited to three two-year terms in the Assembly and two four-years terms in the Senate.
Democrats will consider candidate endorsements under the top-two system during their state party convention in Sacramento at the end of April, although a final decision isn't expected until summer. Democrats, however, already had a process for endorsing primary candidates in which registered local delegates vote in an endorsing caucus, said California Democratic Party spokesman Tenoch Flores.
"The Democrat base is shrinking as well, but not at the speed of the Republicans," warned Matier. "And part of that is because the Democratic base in the state is very well organized. It's organized labor, it's teachers, it's public employees, firefighters, cops are in there too, although ideologically they may be more conservative when it comes to labor issues, they're going to go Democratic. And they're putting the officeholders in the statewide offices, from Jerry Brown on across, the Democrats are running the table. So they have the organization and they have the communication to get around."
(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services may have contributed to this report.)
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