Sunday, September 20, 2015

My First CA GOP Convention: Preliminary Thoughts

With the help of a good friend, I attend my first California Republican Party Convention, and the bi-annual CA GOP meet-and-greet in Anaheim, CA did not disappoint for this erstwhile inactive California conservative. With Disneyland in the background, and tourists flocking from everywhere, the happiest place on earth for me was with fellow Republicans prepping for the next election-cycle victories.

Wow! Anyone who thinks that the CA GOP is a dead and foregone afterthought should, well, start thinking. Republicans are retooling for the real fights, the local races and electoral boards. Policy that turns into purpose and destiny has often been a local affair. I got schooled on this crucial yet unnecessarily missed set of opportunities. Taking advantage of our strong stance on accountability, government transparency, and law enforcement, Republicans dominate non-partisan offices throughout the state of California, and Democrats are already scared.

I saw Charles Munger (the physicist turned GOP donor who helped a number of close campaigns in 2014), Chairman Jim Brulte (a legislator-turned-executive who has seen it all and seeing to so much more), and an assorted who’s-who in California conservative corridors (Jon Fleischman of Flash Report and LA County Board Supervisor Mike Antonovich. But more on that later!). California Republicans have a lot to celebrate. For the first time in decades, Republicans unseat Democratic incumbents up and down the state. In the assembly and the state senate, Republican legislators locked hands and stopped increased taxes and fees. They deserve our respect and were duly recognized in key dinner functions on day one. Retiring assembly minority leader Kristen Olsen greeted me, as did retired Congressman Ernie Konnyu (who as of now has ruled out running for US Senate).

To my dismay, Presidential contender Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker canceled his appearance at the Friday headline dinner, but no worries. I want a President Walker rather than a Keynote speaker who never sets foot in the White House. Former UN Ambassador John Bolton took his place, and Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee turned out to headline the Friday dinner.

The best part of the festivities included  meeting so many minority Republicans, including Chinese-Americans and Filipino conservatives. The Filipino caucus even hosted a Hospitality reception. I met with movers and shakers within the Asian-American community, and we all agreed that more outreach is necessary. Naturally-born and traditionally inclined as conservatives, many Filipinos still vote and identity as Democrats. Why? The Democratic Party has edged into immigration centers and registers so many as Democrats from Day One. That has to change.

By the way, the most Filipino city in California, and the country? Right in my South Bay home, in Carson California, where Democratic city councils and elected officials have all but turned this otherwise wealthy and thriving community into a laughing-stock and “Banana Republic.” A nice dose of Republican leadership at the helm of power can bring necessary restoration and improvement to the city’s public image, but restore the once-strong and stable influence of the Republican Party among Asian-Americans in California and throughout Los Angeles County.

One surprise? Meeting three of the five US Senate candidates running to replace Barbara Boxer. My current favorite? Former CA GOP Chairman Duf Sundheim, who helped with the 2003 recall to throw out Gray Davis. An affable and friendly man who answered all my questions, he agreed with me and stood with Kim Davis (“She should have been accommodated”). He supports secure borders, E-verify. He recognizes this country’s frustrating battle ahead over federal entitlements. Most importantly, he is listening. As for Assemblyman Rocky Chavez, he has quite a record, and some of it bad: he supported SB 4, expanding Medi-Cal to include illegal alien minors. I asked him key questions on a lot of issues, and I did not like his answers. Tom Del Beccaro? The former chairman who presided over a receding GOP and substantial debt for the party? He is off my list for US Senate in 2016.

My second surprise? Meeting the retiring (but hardly shy) Mike Antonovich. He spear-headed investigations into welfare abuse in Los Angeles County (especially among illegal aliens). He also voted against granting taxpayer-funded health insurance to the same. Termed-out, but not tuned out, he is running for state senate next year, and he has my full support.

My third surprise? Meeting the Fresno, CA dairy farmer who drove a long-time Democratic incumbent crazy (and nearly replaced him in the House last year): Johnny Tacherra. He is one telling example of the new face of the California Republican Party: diverse and principled, conservative and pragmatic, aware of the needs of everyday folks and not afraid of the long fight ahead for Republicans entering this new bold century.

What I learned there granted me perspective on what concerned conservative activists must do to win again. The echo chamber is not enough. Time to take the conservative message to the highways and byways.  I met good friends, learned better ideas, and all in all had a great time. Next year, I hope that Chairman Brulte brings next year’s convention to Torrance, CA, and helps escalating more wins in Los Angeles.

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