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California and the West

GOP Senator to Focus on Women, Minorities

Elections: State Sen. Jim Brulte, seeking to broaden his party's appeal, says he will contribute only to female and ethnic candidates in primaries.

May 09, 1999|MARK Z. BARABAK | TIMES POLITICAL WRITER

For years, Republicans have talked of reaching out to build support among women and minorities. Now, state Sen. Jim Brulte is putting his money where his party's mouth is--and jaws are dropping.

Brulte, one of California's savviest GOP strategists, has announced a sort of ad hoc affirmative action plan: Henceforth, he said, he will contribute in party primaries only to women and minority candidates. White males need not apply.

"I think our message, by and large is all right. But if we're ever going to be the majority party and govern in California, we need a more diverse group of messengers," said the Rancho Cucamonga lawmaker, who passed out more than $500,000 in campaign cash in the 1998 elections.

"To bring that about, I'm going to do something I don't normally do and that is contribute in primaries . . . and target my resources to female Republican candidates, to black Republican candidates and Hispanic and Asian Republican candidates."

While few dispute the party's need to expand its ranks, particularly at a time when the white male is headed toward minority status in California, some fellow Republicans are aghast at Brulte's solution. This is, after all, a party that has crusaded against quotas, set-asides and affirmative action.

"We understand where Jim is coming from," said Steve Frank, a longtime conservative activist and state Republican Party officer. "It's just the execution of the plan looks bad. Imagine if a Democrat had set up a [political action committee] and said he'd only give to white Christians because the party has problems with whites and Christians. Do you know what the screams would sound like?"

Brulte brushes aside any talk of quotas or reverse discrimination.

"It's not supporting people simply because of their race or sex," he said. "It's going out and finding good quality candidates and assisting them in their success."

He may be the state GOP's highest-profile--and most provocative--advocate for greater outreach. But after last November's Democratic blowout, Brulte is hardly alone.

Major Changes in Demographics

Bernd Schwieren, a GOP Assembly staffer with a solid record of election forecasting, prepared an internal report for party insiders this spring. He titled it "The Emerging Minority: California's New Electorate and the Future of the Republican Party." In 53 pages laden with demographics, pie charts and the like, Schwieren asserted that the state GOP "has lost contact with the state's new political realities."

"California is being transformed by major demographic, economic and cultural changes," Schwieren wrote. "They have led to the emergence of a new electorate whose most dynamic elements--women, Latinos, New Economy workers--are the most hostile to the Republican Party."

Few dispute that prognosis. For the past 20-odd years, Tony Quinn has been one of the state GOP's most astute demographic analysts. "There is serious question whether the Republican Party can survive as a viable opposition party in California," Quinn said. "If you're going to survive, you can't let your base of support atrophy to such an extent as Republicans have."

But consensus quickly evaporates once the talk turns to proposed remedies.

Michael Schroeder, for one, made minority outreach a high priority--and largely unfulfilled mission--of his just-ended tenure as California Republican Party chairman. Nonetheless, he criticized Brulte's approach.

"Hispanic or Asian Republicans running in competitive districts certainly deserve our support," Schroeder said. "Having said that, qualified white Republicans running in competitive districts also need to be funded."

Stuart DeVeaux, a spokesman for the state Republican Party, declined to directly comment on Brulte's actions. "I will say we continually work to expand the base of the party and win elections," he said.

"The issues we talk about affect people as parents, not black parents, or Hispanic parents," DeVeaux added. "We're speaking to them as taxpayers, not black taxpayers or white taxpayers or Hispanic taxpayers."

For his part, Brulte seems pleased to have at least sparked discussion over how the GOP can grow beyond its shrinking California constituency.

"By and large the response has been pretty good," he said. "I've already met with a number of black Republican leaders, Latino Republican leaders . . . and even some black Democrats who are very upset with their party, thinking they've been taken for granted."

Nor, Brulte insisted, has he precluded the possibility of giving in the GOP primary to at least one white male candidate. Facing reelection next year, Brulte said, "I am going to contribute to myself."

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