By Richard Eber
From my vantage point Saturday evening from a motel room overlooking an abandoned homeless encampment not far from the Sacramento Convention Center, trying to figure out who might emerge victorious the next day to become next Chair of the California Republican Party appeared to be a crap shoot.
The three candidates vying to take the reins of what has become a failing entity were all very different and offered contrasting visions of what the GOP should do to right the ship in California.
Travis Allen, a former Assemblyman who recently was involved with the unsuccessful attempt to repeal with Proposition 6 Jerry Brown’s sponsored gas tax increase in 2018, had a loyal conservative following at the convention. A fiery speaker, whose style resembles former Chair of Democratic National Committee (DNC) Howard Dean, he was running on a “drain the swamp” platform to get rid of the current leadership of the Republican Party.
The other insurgent against the policies of the current GOP leadership was Steve Frank, a long time activist for the party, editor of the California Political News & Views along with being a speaker to local clubs and frequent guest on conservative radio talk shows. His candidacy was based upon a written “Back to Basics” program of what he would do to revive the Republican brand in California.
His emphasis other than raising money was on registering new voters, expanding the base of the party, and preparing conservative candidates to run for office. Frank also wanted the Party to contrast to the body politic in California what they offered as opposed to the current Progressive leadership in Sacramento
Allen and Frank agreed that if one of them came in third in the first round of voting against Jessica Patterson, they would lend support against her if a second ballot were required. For this to happen no candidate was to receive a majority the first time around.
With backing from the current hierarchy of the Party including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Patterson was a favorite from the start. Having been the CEO of the California Trail Blazers, a recruitment and training program for GOP candidates, she had strong support from present and past Republican office holders.
Unlike her opponents, Patterson did not criticize past California Chairman Jim Brulte. She emphasized that everyone should “all work together” having confidence in the next cycle with new messages and messengers to voters.
All three of the candidates got together for a debate on Saturday afternoon. It was basically Allen and Frank bashing the status quo of poor Republican performance at the polls. At one point it was asked what could be said positive about the Party?
Frank responded by talking about declining voter registration, loss of seats in the legislature to the 25% level and the fact there was not even one Republican as a current State office holder. This argument was backed up by Allen who continued the barrage against the current party leadership.
When it was Patterson’s time to answer, she talked about the great people she worked with and their dedication to helping the Party. She countered her opponent’s arguments by the importance of new leadership and unity. Not directly confronting Frank and Allen’s accusations of inept party leadership, Patterson sounded like a Football Coach with a 0-11 record talking about building character with their losses.
During the debate the anti-establishment candidates received the loudest cheers from the delegates. As it turned out this did not matter as Patterson had a secret weapon of over 30% proxy ballots controlled by regional party chairs. The group, which was prominently mentioned in her endorsement list, demonstrated their strength the next day when actual voting took place.
Patterson pulled out all the stops to assure victory. She had a hefty budget for printed matter, signs, a large staff, and political consultants, along with hosting several social events including a dance and a wine cheese get together Saturday night. Allen supporters had their own function but their efforts were weak by comparison.
When the convention convened on Sunday morning, the outcome was soon evident. Efforts to curtail the practice of proxy harvesting were handily defeated. When the final vote was taken on the Party Chair, Patterson with the benefit of proxy supporters was able to garner 54.6% of the popular vote to become Chairwomen of the California Republican Party.
As a 38 year old Latino millennial, Jessica Paterson’s victory is a major accomplishment. In her brief acceptance speech she said “for me actions speak louder than words” promising less oratory and more concrete achievements as party leader. As a gesture for increasing Republican unity, she called upon Travis Allen and Steve Frank to work on promoting voter registration with her.
One of her first jobs will be to fix the rift among Republican factions pertaining to their support of Donald Trump. Although Patterson said she voted for the President, many conservatives in the party feel that this gesture was lukewarm at best. It is her goal to take the Pro Trump faction people that are currently inactive on the sidelines, and bring them back into the GOP fold.
This is a difficult task because there is so much bitterness between conservatives and those whom they consider to be the Republicans in Name Only (RINOS) Trying to unite the two sides will be difficult for Chairwomen Patterson because her strongest supporter Kevin McCarthy is considered by many on the right to be a RINO stalwart.
Once the rift within the party is healed, Patterson will have to do deal with loss of registered Republicans caused principally by not reaching eligible voters and former GOP members changing their affiliations to “Declines to State” In order to accomplish this goal, it will be necessary to give people a reason to change their loyalties.
This means voters knowing the difference between what Republicans stand for versus the Progressive Democrats that dominate the political landscape in California. Issues of note are high taxes, crime, Sanctuary Cities, job creation, education, water policy, governmental regulations, and housing.
Being able to communicate the conservative perspective so voters clearly understand the differences between Republicans and Gavin Newsom is job #1 for Ms. Patterson. Hopefully the youthful newly elected California GOP leader will be able to provide “A choice not an echo” in the next couple of years.
Richard Eber studied journalism at the University of Oregon. He writes about politics, culture, education restaurants, and was former city and sports editor of UCSB Daily. Richard is president of Amerasa Rapid Transit, a specialized freight forwarder.