Commentary | Vince Lombardi and California Republican Politics


By Richard Colman


Do you Remember Vince Lombardi, the great football coach?

Lombardi once said:  “Winning isn’t the thing; winning is the only thing.”

Lombardi was not a philosopher, but he did have a great philosophy.

When a business has a product that doesn’t sell, the firm can drop the product or make changes.

In California, the Republican Party is not selling itself to voters.  In the state legislature, Democrats have supermajorities, or close to supermajorities, in both houses.

No Republicans hold any statewide offices, such as governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, or treasurer.

Both California U.S. senators, Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris, are Democrats.

In the 1960’s, California had a vigorous Republican Party.  In 1966, Ronald Reagan was elected governor by almost one million votes.  In the 1960 and 1968 presidential elections, the Republican candidate, Richard Nixon, won California’s electoral votes.

In 1982 and 1986, George Deukmejian, a Republican, won the governor’s race.   In 1990 and 1994, Pete Wilson, another Republican, was elected governor.

Starting around 1992, Democrats started winning elections all over California.  Today, the Democratic Party in California is basically a monopoly.

To be competitive, Republicans need to rebrand themselves.  This is not an easy task. 

Perhaps Republicans do not want to change.  Maybe they are comfortable with an ideology that appears to be unfriendly to ethnic minorities (African-Americans and Latinos, for example).  Moreover, many California Republicans are opposed — or are not sympathetic to — same-sex marriage, abortion, and other social issues (like prayer in the schools).

At the national level in 1952, Republicans had a fierce debate.  Many party regulars wanted Sen. Robert Taft (R-Ohio) to be the presidential nominee.  Other Republicans wanted a national hero, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, instead of Sen. Taft.  Gen. Eisenhower won the Republican nomination, but his fight with Sen. Taft was bitter.

Remember, the Republicans had lost five presidential elections in a row:  1932; 1936; 1940; 1944; and 1948.  In the first four of those election years, Franklin D. Roosevelt, a Democrat, was on the ballot.  In 1948, the Democratic candidate was Harry Truman, who unexpectedly won a four-year term.

Perhaps rank-and-file Republicans were unhappy with Gen. Eisenhower, but in 1952 and 1956 he won the presidency with landslide victories.  In 1952, Republicans took control of the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.

As president, Gen. Eisenhower ended the Korean War in July 1953, six months after his first inauguration.  Until he left office, in January 1961, America was at peace.  The American economy performed very well.


So what should California Republican do now — in 2018 and beyond?

Many Republicans are pro-business.  Like businesses in trouble, Republicans need to rebrand themselves.

Here are a few suggestions:

·         Start listening to voters.  Voters are basically concerned about insufficient income, a standard of living that is all too low, high housing prices, and job insecurity.  Even though California is close to full employment, many residents have not fully recovered from the deep recession that began in 2008-2009.

·         Say and do things similar to what the late Jack Kemp, a great football player, favored.  Later, after retiring from football, Mr. Kemp became a congressman from the Buffalo, New York, area, then U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and then the 1996 Republican candidate for vice president.  Mr. Kemp said he favored an “opportunity” society, in which any American could obtain what he desired in life.  Mr. Kemp believed that lower taxes help create jobs.  As an athlete, Mr. Kemp knew how to get along with African-Americans.  Mr. Kemp was not a polarizing figure.

·         Discuss issues that really concern voters.  These issue include — but are not limited to — bad schools, traffic congestion, a lack of parking, high taxes, high prices, inflation, and government overregulation like requiring solar power in all new homes built in 2020 and beyond.  Solar power can add $10,000 to $20,000 to the price of a new home.

·         Talk about financial insecurity.  Most middle income residents in California have few, if any, funds saved for retirement and their children’s education after high school.  If middle income Americans, in additional to their other expenses, need to provide help for their aging parents, there may not be enough money.

·         Forget about mentioning social issues.   The easiest reply to questions about personal behavior is to say that government should stay out of personal matters.

·         Tell voters that Republicans can fix the mess in Sacramento.  California, despite the appearance of fiscal surpluses, is deeply in debt because of unfunded pension liabilities for public employees.  These liabilities could be between $300 billion and $1 trillion, according to the dean of Sacramento news columnists, Dan Walters.

·         Talk about how to create affordable health care for people.  Show that special private accounts that are tax-free can help lower costs.  Offer some kind of non-government program for individuals who experience catastrophic illness.

·         Do nothing — and say nothing — to stop people and businesses from leaving California.  If the state’s population drops 25 percent (from the current 40 million to 30 million) housing will become affordable, and the need for new, expensive transportation projects will vanish.

·         Offer to improve elementary and high school education by offering parents and pupils a choice of schools.  President Bill Clinton, a somewhat centrist Democrat, said he favored school choice, especially charter schools, which are public schools that do not offer tenure to teachers and do not have teachers’ unions.

·         Pay more attention to women voters.  Certain Republican women, especially in suburbia, claim they feel ignored by the California Republican Party.  In general, these women are college-educated, fiscally conservative, and pro-choice on the issue of abortion.  Women in this mold are Sandra Day O’Connor, the former U.S. Supreme Court justice, Betty Ford, the former First Lady, and the late Barbara Bush, another former First Lady.

·         Talk about the importance of local communities.  State that such neighborhoods as Chinatowns, Japantowns, and Koreatowns are totally appropriate for individuals who like ethnic neighborhoods, their unique restaurants, and their shops.

·         Show strong support for Israel and oppose any plan that would allow Iran to  become a nuclear power and have guided missiles that could deliver nuclear weapons.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, a notoriously liberal region, there are no Republican members of Congress.  In the state legislature, there are no Republicans from this region — with one exception, Assemblywoman Catharine Baker (R-Dublin).  Ms. Baker represents the heavily Democratic 16th Assembly District in Contra Costa County and Alameda County, yet she won election in 2014 and 2016.  She is heavily favored to win a third term in 2018.

Ms. Baker is very supportive of higher education (including the University of California) and careful about spending government money.  She did not support increasing the state legislature’s most recent bill to raise the minimum wage.

Ms. Baker frequently holds town-hall meetings.  She listens to constituents.

Ms. Baker is pro-choice and in 2016 did not endorse Donald Trump, the Republican candidate for president.

Ms. Baker, like Mr. Kemp, is not a polarizing figure.  She is open to working with Democrats in the legislature.  With bipartisan support, she has helped pass bills that Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, has signed.

More than a few Republicans dislike Ms. Baker.  But she has one thing going for her:  She can win elections.

Vince Lombardi would be impressed with Ms. Baker.

California Republicans need to have an attitude like that of Vince Lombardi:  “Winning is the only thing.”

Richard Colman is the founder and president of Biomed Inc., a biotechnology, publishing, and informatics company.  He is a biochemist and earned masters and doctoral degrees from the University of California at Berkeley.  He lives in Orinda, California.

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