Friday, June 6, 2014

Encouraging news for California Republicans

California's gubernatorial race this fall will pit Democratic incumbent Jerry Brown against Republican challenger Neel Kashkari.

No one at this point thinks Kashkari has a real shot at unseating Brown, who benefits from both high name recognition (Brown is about as well-known in the state as anyone can be) and relatively good job-approval numbers. However, Kashkari's being the Republican nominee is itself a victory for the party. As a moderate, he had to fend off a Tea Party challenger, Tim Donnelly, who made the primary a real fight for the GOP base.

As is true everywhere nowadays, Kashkari the moderate had a tough time making inroads among the radical-right Republicans that disproportionately show up for primaries: Donnelly was their darling. That didn't sit well with the Republican power structure. Here's how the situation was characterized in a San Francisco Chronicle piece from 4 June 2014:

Donnelly's campaign, fueled by grassroots passion and defiant conservatism - as well as a penchant for headline-making - panicked the GOP establishment. Party leaders across the country issued warnings that the election of a gun-rights advocate who was a co-founder of the California Minutemen, a self-styled border patrol group, would irreparably damage the party's chances in November if he were the party's standard-bearer in November.
The political atmosphere is further to the left in California than in many other states. The Golden State has its share of hard-right GOPers, but the kind of radical-right rhetoric heard in bright-red states hasn't gained much traction. It certainly turns off undecided and independent voters.

Donnelly has struck me as impatient with the complexity of immigration and the border — and probably much else. I have no use for people whose default attitude is, "If it's complex, it must be wrong". Simplistic thinking like this is unproductive. It leads to gutting laws for the sake of reducing them to something anyone can understand, without asking if there was a good reason for the complexity. If you think like this, you probably also distrust government generally and strongly prefer it should be much smaller than it is, but you don't care how it's done. Exasperation with details, though, disqualifies you as a serious candidate for public office. Public service requires grappling with messy details, because messy details nearly always come down to individual people's lives.

Just as bad is the tendency for Tea Partyers to embrace offensively simpleminded (and often simply wrong) notions about everyone else.

A post on Donnelly's Facebook page that suggested that Kashkari, a Hindu, supported Islamic Shariah law drew widespread condemnation.

And after a newspaper dug up a 2006 speech to anti-illegal-immigration Minutemen in which he referred approvingly to the number of Mexicans killed at the Alamo, Donnelly was anything but apologetic, saying, "People will respect you if you stick to your guns."

("Sticking to your guns" is a popular theme on the far right. Heaven forbid that one should learn from one's mistakes.)

Donnelly left a very bad taste in my mouth. Had he been anointed the Republican challenger, that bad taste would have extended to the state GOP. That's the last thing it needs. That's the last thing California needs.

Democrats hold unchallenged sway in statewide offices and the Legislature. Though I lean Democratic, I know one-party rule is dangerous: earlier this year, for instance, Assemblyman Leland Yee became the third Democrat to be caught in a corruption scandal. California needs a GOP that's strong enough and rational enough to make Democrats fight for the right to hold office. Tim Donnelly doesn't make the party look strong or rational.

Neel Kashkari probably won't be California's next governor, but he has a shot at making the California Republican Party less unpalatable to those repelled by the Tea Party's baleful influence.

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