Fresh Face, Fresh Start for the California GOP?

2 min
The California GOP's new chair, Jessica Patterson, poses with living past party chairs after her election in February 2019. (Courtesy California GOP)

California's Republican Party has lost so many voters it is now a third party — there are more Californians registered "no party preference," than GOP in the Golden State.

But now, Republican faithfuls are hoping the party's first female chair (who also happens to be Latina) will help reverse that long downward slide.

"It's really near a bottom that we haven't seen before," said longtime GOP consultant Rob Stutzman.

Stutzman, a mainstream Sacramento Republican — and a "never Trumper" in 2016 — is distressed by how far his party has fallen in California now that the party leadership has fully embraced the president.

"Another way to look at it is, Republicans may have lost about every legislative or congressional district they could possibly lose" he said, before adding that the party could actually lose additional legislative seats next year.

Stutzman says the party's problems aren't entirely of Trump's making.

"Trump is an accelerant," he said. "He's accelerated the decline and he is completely an obstruction to a turnaround."

Most independent observers trace the party's long, slow decline in California to the 1994 ballot measure Proposition 187, aimed at taking benefits away from undocumented immigrants. The ballot measure easily passed, although much of it was later thrown out by the courts.

Since then, the national party's message — on immigration, guns, the environment and more — has continued driving away women along with the state's growing Latin and Asian populations. The California Republican Party is placing its hopes for a comeback in a party chair elected earlier this year — Jessica Patterson — the first woman and Latina to hold the position.

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"Certainly there is a significance to it," Patterson told KQED recently. "It's not something that I ran on. But it certainly shows that there is a new day in the California Republican Party."

Patterson says the party's board of directors is also diverse — noting that "almost half" are women.

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"We've got four Latinos. We've got a Taiwanese immigrant as our Vice Chairman. We've got a kick ass Punjabi attorney as our national committeewoman. We've got an African-American and two openly gay men," Patterson said. "Our board, our leadership is very reflective of not what I just believe California is, but what I believe California Republicans are."

But GOP consultant Stutzman said whatever the party does in terms of its leadership, state Republicans will be hamstrung because the GOP has embraced Donald Trump, who is so unpopular in California.

"The California Republican Party needs Trump out of the way in order to move forward," Stuztman said. "That means a Democrat in the White House after the 2020 election."

However, this weekend's Republican gathering will feature speeches from key Trump surrogates, including his 2020 campaign manager Brad Parscale and Energy Secretary Rick Perry.

GOP Chair Patterson argued that voters will be receptive to Republican solutions — especially ones that don't include more regulation or higher taxes.

"Californians are waking up to what these failed Democrat policies have brought them. And I think we have a huge opportunity here," she said. "But we need to be prepared. And that's what our convention is about."

Scott Shafer co-hosts Political Breakdown, a weekly podcast and radio program on California politics. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts.

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