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Republicans, Take Back Your Party

Election: Local groups seeking a better GOP are challenging the right wing, with the future of the party at stake.

March 05, 2000|ROBERT LARKIN | Robert Larkin is president of the California Congress of Republicans, a statewide volunteer organization, based in Simi Valley

In addition to the presidential primary Tuesday, numerous Central Committee elections will determine the future--and whether there will be a future--of the Republican Party.

Over the past 20 years, the Republican Party has been taken over by one faction of the party, the far right wing. This did not matter as long as there was a Republican president or governor to keep the excesses of this group in check. Now, however, without adult supervision, control by this group has brought to question the sustainability of our party.

Republicans lost big in the last election cycle. The party is having a hard time raising money and is losing in the registration wars. Republican women did not vote in the last election, and the party's image is badly in need of improvement. We want people of strong moral convictions in the Republican Party, but when we appear as intolerant moralists, the party loses.

It is time the mainstream majority had a chance to manage the party, to prove to the nation and also to the right wing that it can do a better job of electing good Republicans.

The takeover of the party started in the 1980s when Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority types decided to capture the party as a way of accomplishing a moral agenda through legislation. The record of this is well-stated in the book "Blinded by Might" by Cal Thomas and Edward Dobson. Both were Falwell aides who left the movement when they realized that moral change comes from spiritual change and not government action. They describe the history of the takeover and the failure of this movement to accomplish anything except possibly the debilitation of the Republican Party.

The dominant group in the California Republican Party is the California Republican Assembly. The CRA has essentially taken over the party. This group recently proved its relevance by endorsing Gary Bauer for president at its convention with a two-thirds majority.

The mainstream majority of the party--including volunteer groups such as the California Congress of Republicans and the California Republican League--is mounting an energetic challenge to CRA control. Republican women's groups such as Seneca and the Wish List are anxious to change the direction of the party. Additionally, many Republican elected officials, while not wanting to offend the right wing, seek to make the party more productive. Mostly, however, the challenge is from local groups wanting a better Republican Party.

Orange County is perhaps the most public battle zone. A strong financial group there, the New Majority Committee, and a grass-roots group, Republicans for New Directions, are trying to broaden the base of the Republican Party by electing mainstream candidates to the Central Committee.

In Monterey, 21 Republicans filed as a bloc to take back the Central Committee from the far right to make the party productive and winnable in this otherwise liberal county. Likewise in Santa Cruz, a notoriously liberal county, Republicans are challenging a vocal far right Central Committee that is totally out of touch with the community.

There are lively battles in Napa, Yolo, Sacramento, Placer, San Luis Obispo, Shasta, Riverside, Alameda and, to some extent, in all counties.

The outcome of these races will determine the future of the local parties and the future of the state party. Republicans going to the polls Tuesday should inform themselves about the Central Committee candidates on the ballot. There is a lot at stake. The question is whether we want to continue our losing ways or bring real leadership to California.

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