SACRAMENTO – For years, Republican establishmentarians have taken their grass-roots supporters for granted, knowing that, come Election Day, activists will vote for the lesser of two evils – i.e., that even a bad Republican is better than a Democrat. In the primaries, Republican leaders often back unprincipled candidates who are perceived at having a better chance at winning than more ideologically driven ones.
Fed-up activists seem to be recognizing that this strategy hasn’t gotten them anywhere, as Tuesday’s primary results in Delaware and New York confirm. Tea party-oriented activists, and frustrated voters, bucked the party hierarchy and nominated feisty conservatives who echo their supporters’ anger, whatever the nominees’ chances in November. I’ve long subscribed to the idea that the most impact political activists can have is to be potential spoilers. It scares the heck out of party leaders, who then must work hard to keep the activists happy.
Calif. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, right, and Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado, left, speak at a news conference at the site of a pipeline explosion in San Bruno, Calif., Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2010 that exploded last Thursday. In background is a destroyed home.
On Tuesday, as angry Republican voters were flocking to the polls in places such as Delaware and New Hampshire, angry California activists were playing their own version of the “Who cares if the bad Republican loses” game, as they targeted Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado, who is in a tough election race in November.
Maldonado, a former state senator from Santa Maria, has long been loathed by the state GOP’s conservatives for his tax-raising, government-expanding votes, and his left-leaning positions on social issues such as gay marriage. When Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed him lieutenant governor to replace John Garamendi, elected to fill a congressional seat, conservatives fought the appointment – so much that it took the governor a summer of arm-twisting to eke out enough votes to elevate Maldonado to an essentially meaningless position.
Now, Maldonado is running for a full term as lieutenant governor, against San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom. As Maldonado explained at a recent Sacramento County Republican fund-raiser, he needs 84 percent of GOP votes to pull out a victory, and he is appealing to the GOP to close ranks behind him, despite longstanding differences, to stop the wacky Newsom.
In the past, such a ploy might have worked, but it’s probably not good enough today.
Instead, conservatives pulled a clever stunt. From Friday until Tuesday, Schwarzenegger was out of the country, so Maldonado was “acting” governor.
Maldonado was sending out press releases trumpeting how he was helping victims of the San Bruno natural-gas disaster and signing various bills into law – including a good one that returned illegal taxes to the plundered residents of the notorious city of Bell.
The conservative Capitol Resource Institute argued, that since Maldonado was acting as governor, he should file an appeal of Proposition 8, the anti-gay-marriage state constitutional amendment voided by a federal judge. State support for the appeal would give the case standing. “The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has agreed to hear the appeal of the challenge to Constitutionality of Prop. 8,” CRI explained in its e-mail blast to members. “But in accepting the appeal of Perry v. Schwarzenegger they noted that the issue of whether the proponents have standing to bring this appeal will be decided at the hearing later this year. Attorney General Brown and Governor Schwarzenegger have refused to defend the people’s vote and file the appeal. … Contact Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado and urge him, as acting governor, to appeal the Prop. 8 case and represent the people.”
The group’s activist base jumped into action – so much so that Maldonado’s office called a CRI representative Monday, asking that she stop giving out one of the office phone numbers so that it would have a line that wasn’t jammed. Had Maldonado signed onto the appeal, there’s no doubt conservatives would have embraced him, thus giving him some needed help in the coming election, where polls show him lagging by a few points.
Personally, I wish conservatives would get this agitated over issues of the budget, pensions, governmental abuse and basic liberties, rather than over limiting the freedom of gay people to get married. (Note to conservatives: Freedom means allowing people to do things with which you disagree, not just those things of which you approve!) In my view, the state should just exit the marriage business, period, but I digress.
Nevertheless, I love the beauty in this political tempest – as Maldonado could have been saved by his foes.
Maldonado did not sign the appeal, which left conservatives fuming, but not surprised. My office is near that of CRI Executive Director Karen England. I saw her after the appeal deadline passed, and she jokingly urged me to run for lieutenant governor as a write-in, with the help of statewide activists – ironic given my libertarian rather than conservative views. I considered this a fun publicity stunt for about 10 minutes, until a colleague reminded me that I’d have to take a leave of absence and forfeit a paycheck until November.
I asked England, “Why don’t you run?” Turns out she had been toying with the idea. Before you know it, she had the endorsement of some Republican activists and was printing up bumper stickers and signs.
England knows she can’t win, but she sees it as a chance to get her conservative ideas out there in a race where such ideas will never get a hearing. If she helps deny Maldonado the election, all the better in her view – at least he won’t be the presumptive Republican nominee a few years from now, and at least it will teach the GOP a lesson about nominating Republicans In Name Only.
I wish it were libertarians, and not social conservatives, who were putting the heat on the GOP. Still, I admire this fighting spirit, an important attribute if Californians ever want to reinvigorate their struggling state.