Jim Brulte speaks with reporters after being elected state Republican… (Rich Pedroncelli, Associated…)
SACRAMENTO — One of Jim Brulte's first acts Sunday as the newly elected leader of the California Republican Party was to hand-deliver a $50,000 check from a friend, with the promise of another one this week.
They will only dent the state party's debt, which is in the high six figures, but Brulte's ability to tap a vast network of donors is among the reasons that the former legislative leader was elected to try to salvage the beleaguered party.
"Look, wherever — wherever — there is a willing heart and a checkbook that's willing to write a $5, $10, $15, $20, $50, $100, $1,000, $10,000 check, I'll go," Brulte told reporters after the weekend's party convention ended. "The first principle of conservatism is you live within your means. So we will pay off our debt, and we will find a way to live within our means."
Brulte takes office at a time when the party faces daunting obstacles. In addition to the debt, its share of the state's voters is at a historic low of less than 30%, and the party has not elected a candidate statewide in seven years, most recently suffering a shellacking in November.
Echoing what Republicans have pledged for years, Brulte called for expanding the party by pushing it outside its "comfort zone," and talking to every community rather than only to die-hard Republicans.
"After a tough election, and it was tough in California, it's easy to turn and blame other Republicans for it, but it was our loss," Brulte told several hundred party activists after he was elected chairman. "We all ought to own it, and we ought to redouble our efforts going out and winning elections."
Brulte demanded an end to infighting among Republicans, saying it only helps Democrats. Citing the son-in-law of the late President Reagan, Brulte called for a return to Reagan's 11th commandment of not speaking ill of fellow Republicans.
Democrats "understand every minute we're arguing with ourselves, we're not pointing out the mistakes President Obama is making in Washington and Jerry Brown is making in California," Brulte said.
And the chairman poked a little fun at his girth by recalling a recent visit to a party fundraiser in Stanislaus County, where he saw a noticeably thin man receive the volunteer of the year award for walking precincts.
"I said to the people at the table, you see, when you walk precincts you lose weight," Brulte said. Harmeet Dhillon, the new vice chair of the party, "spun around, looked at me and said, 'You should walk a few.' "
Brulte, the former leader of Republicans in the state Senate, was elected with 990 delegate votes; his opponent received 115.
Brulte received 110 votes more than Dhillon did in her race after a testy two-pronged campaign against her bid to become the state party vice chairman. One attack was race- and religion-based, questioning the Indian-born citizen's patriotism and accusing her of being a sympathizer with Muslim terrorists. (Dhillon is actually a practicing Sikh.) The party leadership, which backed Dhillon's candidacy, condemned those slurs. The other attack questioned the conservative credentials of the Bay Area attorney.
"Coming from San Francisco and having run a couple of campaigns for Senate and for the Assembly, I can tell you it's very rare for a Republican from San Francisco to ever win an election," she said in her acceptance speech.
Dhillon is the first woman to hold the position and is considered a likely successor to Brulte.