New California Republican Party Chair Jessica Patterson stands with past party chairs following her election at the state party convention in Sacramento in February. (Courtesy of California Republican Party)
The new chair of the California Republican Party doesn’t resemble any of the past party leaders. Jessica Patterson is a woman, a millennial and a Latina. And party leaders are hoping she’s the person who can bring it back from the brink of extinction.
Patterson, 38, didn’t highlight the differences between her and past party chairs when she was campaigning for the job. But she admits she does see her identity as a bonus as the California GOP begins the task of reaching out to a more diverse group of voters.
“There are definitely communities that have felt neglected by our party over the years," she said. "And so I think that it's incumbent on all Republicans to make sure that we are working to grow our party.”
In fact, in recent years, millennials, Latinos, Asians and other voters of color have abandoned the party in droves. Republicans now rank third in registered voters behind Democrats and those with no party preference. That trend has been happening for decades. But Patterson is convinced she can turn things around. She acknowledges it won't happen overnight.
"I don't think that there's any silver bullet," she said. "It's going to take a lot of engagement. The Democrats have beat us in a lot of ways over the last few years. One of the ways that they have particularly beat us was by showing up."
Patterson, who lives in Simi Valley, has a long history with the party, which she began volunteering for in high school. She's currently the CEO of California Trailblazers, which recruits and trains Republican candidates for state legislative office. She worked on the campaign for Meg Whitman’s 2010 gubernatorial run and for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 2006 re-election, which was the last year a Republican won a statewide race — along with Steve Poizner, who was elected California insurance commissioner.
“She’s a serious player, very thoughtful person, great vision," Schwarzenegger said. "So I have great hopes now that there will be some changes happening.”
But while Patterson has been embraced by party moderates, she calls herself a proud conservative who is against abortion, pro-gun rights, pro-border security and strongly anti-tax. Those positions have won her the support of prominent state Republicans like U.S. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and state Senate Republican Leader Shannon Grove, both of Bakersfield.
“I'm one of the most conservative legislators on the state Senate floor," Grove said, "and I think Jessica's going to be the right person for the party."
When it comes to the Democratic Party, Patterson is blunt. During the Republican state convention in February, she called Democratic lawmakers the enemy. And she said she believes they’ll overplay their hand.
"Whether it's taxing big gulps or plastic straws or reusable cup fees or gas, these are all taxes on the middle class and it's making it largely unaffordable for people all over California," she said.
Of course that was gubernatorial candidate John Cox's message, too, and he lost to Gavin Newsom last year by nearly 3 million votes.
Patterson said she’s already getting to work raising money and coordinating the party message. Her first big test will come in the 2020 primary, when Republicans could take the first step toward making up some much-needed ground.