Last weekend I had the privilege of attending the bi-annual California Republican Party convention as a delegate representing Santa Barbara county. This three-day event was held at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Sacramento, right across from the Capital where the democrats now hold super-majorities in the state legislature. The last election cycle marked an all time low for the CRP, and this convention was significant because it marks a possible turning point for the party with a slate of new party officers being elected. Over the past two years under the leadership of former chair Tom Del Bacarro, the state registration rate for Republicans has fallen just under 30% and the party is now fighting for relevancy. Now the torch has been passed to current CRP chairman Jim Brulte, a moderate Republican and veteran politician who served 12 years in state legislature. Many are hoping Brulte can turn the party around by raising it out of debt, connecting more with minority and youth demographics, and winning elections. In addition to a new chairman, Harmeet Dhillon was elected as the new CRP vice chairman, and her experience as the San Francisco county GOP chair will be invaluable to the party. As a young Indian American woman, her leadership role will also help shift the stereotypical perception of the party as a bunch of old white guys.
CRP Sacramento ended up having a lot more energy and a higher attendance than many past conventions, which was a good sign for the future. Despite the failures at the ballots, people were generally optimistic and had hope that a new direction in the party could turn things around. The convention also drew some big speakers, including party icons and political pundits Karl Rove, Ben Stein, Ben Shapiro, and Chuck DeVore. Although I didn’t attend these VIP events, there were many of other things keeping me busy over the weekend. As a delegate for Robin Walter (our district’s assembly candidate), I attended the Central Coast Regional caucus on Saturday morning along with many others from Santa Barbara. Delegates from all six counties in the region, ranging from Ventura all the way up to Montery, ended up unanimously electing Greg Gandrud to a second term as regional vice-chair. Greg’s primary role will be to coordinate party functions between the six county central committees and to be the liaison between the state board and the local grassroots. Greg believes that Republicans can win as long as they run on issues that a majority of California voters believe in, such as school voice, regulatory reform, pension reform, and lower taxes (you can find more information about his plan here: http://www.gandrud.org/). After the election of the regional vice-chairman, we also were able to hear short speeches from the four candidates running for CRP offices, including Jim Brulte, David Miller, Harmeet Dhillon, and Rodney Stanhope.
In addition to my duties as a delegate for Santa Barbara county, I was also there at the convention representing the Republican Liberty Caucus of CA. Currently, I am serving on the RLC state board for the central coast region and work on the convention sub-committee. Thus, I volunteered some time over the weekend to table at our RLC booth, where we handed out our RLC recommendations for CRP offices, promoted our “Liberty and Limited Government Forum,” and tested people using the World’s Smallest Political Quiz to see where they were ideologically on the political spectrum. We also donated a portion of our table space to Liberty in North Korea, a group seeking to promote freedom in the hostile country of North Korea by saving political refugees wishing to escape. While spending time at our booth I able to catch up with many other regular RLC members who I see about twice at year at these CRP conventions, as well as meeting many new faces. Our group has seen quite the growth the past several years, and our goal is to move the Republican party to a more libertarian direction. Therefore, our RLC forum event that afternoon featured Justin Raimondo as our keynote speaker, who would deliver a speech about “Our Libertarian Republican Heritage.” I had been looking forward to this event for quite some time, and while there I was happy to see about a hundred people in attendance. Justin Raimondo ended up giving a really in-depth account on the history on the Republican party and its traditional stance of a non-interventionist foreign policy, starting back in the Eisenhower days and continuing all the way up to the candidacies of Pat Buchanan and Ron Paul. After the RLC forum, I took a quick stroll down to the College Republicans party at Dawson’s Bar and ran into many of the UCSB CR’s. This was a very lively event, and the CR’s were quite generous to pay for an open bar!
The last day of the convention was when the most important business was conducted, electing the CRP officers. However, before the general session I attended the ”A Conversation on the Future of the California Republican Party,” a special forum on Sunday morning. David Miller’s campaign organized this event and it was meant to be an open dialogue between the delegates and David Miller, Rodney Stanhope, and a handful of county chairman. This was one of the most interesting events of the week because not only did I become more familiar with the CRP candidates, but I also got to hear many great ideas from the general public about how to turn the party around. Fortunately if you missed this event, it was recorded and a private video will be sent out to all the county chairs to distribute how they choose. However, to give a brief rundown of some of the ideas people brought to the table: backing off from the social issues, controlling our message to better frame the debate, more thorough candidate screenings to prevent any more Akins or Mourdocks from tarnishing our brand, embracing more libertarian stances on civil liberties and foreign policy, and reaching out to minority communities. After the forum ended, I proceeded to find the Santa Barbara delegation at the general session and prepared to execute my duties as a delegate in electing the next chair and vice-chair. Surprisingly, Tom Del Becarro moved things along with a bit more haste than usual, but not surprisingly there were a couple John Boehner moments when the waterworks came out. Before not too long, it was time for the election and everyone went to cast their ballots. I didn’t stay afterwards to hear the results, but to my best recollection Jim Brulte defeated David Miller about 1000 votes to 110, and Harmeet Dhillon defeated Rodney Stanhope about 900 votes to 200. In the end, the challengers gave a valiant effort and it was great to see some passionate people fighting to right our sinking ship. Given our current situation, I would have been more worried if all the races would have been uncontested, which would have indicated that nothing was going to change. Jim Brulte will have quite the task at hand resurrected the Grand Old Party in CA and I wish him the best. If nothing else, we will keep fighting until we win or the state collapses, whichever comes first.