Despite persistent delusions that it retains plenty of influence, the California Republican Party is in increasing danger of descending into third place among party registration choices of California voters.
That’s clear from the newest voter registration figures released by Secretary of State Debra Bowen, which show a drop in GOP registration juxtaposed with large increases for both Democrats and the “no party preference” category often known as “decline to state” or “independent.”
The obvious reason: California Republicans are out of touch with most voters. Not only do its members of Congress and the state Legislature display little or no independence from the party line, but that party line itself deviates considerably from what every poll shows the majority of the public wants.
The figures first: Democratic Party registration jumped from 6.6 million in January 2008 to 7.4 million this January. At the same time, decline-to-states went from 3.01 million to 3.6 million. Republicans? They dropped from 5.197 million in January 2008 to 5.17 million four years later.
Normally, a major party will experience increases in registration when the White House belongs to the other big party. That’s happened nationally for Republicans, as President Obama draws strong opposition among conservatives and has disappointed many others who voted for him four years ago. But in California, Republicans had a net loss of about 27,000 registrants. While Democrats picked up almost 800,000.
Many analysts see these figures as a sign of disillusion with political parties in general, as decline-to-state voters now make up almost 22 percent of the electorate, up about 10 percent (505,000) from 2008. But the numbers indicate registered voters’ dissatisfaction is concentrated on only one of the major parties – Republicans.
It’s commonplace to hang that phenomenon on the GOP’s strong anti-illegal immigrant stance, which flies in the face of the single biggest concern for the steadily increasing corps of Latino voters, who rank immigration reform that includes some type of possible amnesty as their top political priority. And that’s certainly a big part of it.
But there are also other areas where California Republicans are simply out of touch.
Nowhere was that more obvious than in a late-winter legislative vote on a bill known as the California Disclose Act, a project of the California Clean Money Campaign, whose central tenet is that voters should be informed about who is spending big money to influence government policy, and how much.
The idea took the form of a bill known as AB 1148, which sought to require that ads paid for by independent expenditure groups and ballot measure committees disclose the names of their three leading “identifiable contributors” right in the ads.
Democratic Assemblywoman Julia Brownley of Santa Monica and Ventura County, who carried the bill, originally wanted legislators to put the question before voters, which would only have taken majority votes in both the Assembly and state Senate. But Democrats on the state Assembly Appropriations Committee altered the bill to let legislators themselves make this change in the Fair Political Practices Act, passed as a 1970s-era initiative. This would have required a two-thirds vote. The bill almost made it.
All but one of the 52 Democrats in the Assembly voted to pass it, while all but one of the 28 Republicans there voted against.
How out of touch could they be? While it’s true that Republicans pride themselves on sticking to principles even when those stances are unpopular, the party has never viewed keeping political donor names secret as a matter of principle. Practicality, maybe. But it would be hard to make hiding donors’ identities a basic principle. And yet, Republican Assembly members – with the lone exception of San Diego’s Nathan Fletcher – voted as a bloc to retain today’s secrecy.
Although Brownley has submitted a new, slightly stronger, Disclose Act with different number, this probably means that for at least the next two elections, coming up in June and November, voters will not know who’s really behind many ads they see for both candidates and ballot propositions.
Rather, they will once again see notations citing misleading names like “Californians for Statewide Smoking Restrictions” (a big tobacco-funded group that tried to end local anti-smoking ordinances) or the “California Alliance” (a trial lawyers’ group) or “Californians for Economic and Environmental Balance” (oil, chemical and utility companies) as the tag lines for radio, television and newspaper ads.
Essentially, Republicans preserved electoral secrecy for a while, just as they have kept a lid on all new taxes, for now. Yet, Republicans see the same public opinion polls as Democrats, so they had to know that openness is favored by 84 percent of Californians, according to the latest survey by the non-partisan Public Policy Institute.
So the campaign donor secrecy vote was a clear example of Republicans voting against a cause the public favors by large margins. The GOP also opposes popular causes like gun control and almost all environmental regulations. Is it any wonder this party steadily loses public support?