Irrelevancy may not be so bad. California Republicans are still smarting from their ignominious meltdown at the polls on November 6, but for many Republican legislators, this may be a liberating turning point.
For at least a decade, Republican Caucus unity was used to deny the Democratic majority the ability to increase taxes or make any other fiscal moves that required a two-thirds majority. The result has been a one-issue isolation that has kept Republican members from playing a significant role on other issues where they might make a difference, such as regulatory reform. A few years ago, voters reduced the requirement for passing the State Budget to a simple majority, but left the two-thirds requirement for levying new taxes intact. Now, the GOP has slipped below the one-third threshold and has pretty much lost its leverage on taxes and spending. Clearly, it’s time to retool.
This may be a particularly good moment for Republicans to roll up their sleeves and attempt to work with urban and labor Democrats to tackle environmental regulation. This isn’t about AB 32 and global climate change issues, but it is about the time, duplication and expense that weigh down the CEQA process, impede responsible development and make California a daunting place to do business. Governor Jerry Brown is an outspoken critic of the dysfunctional environmental permitting process and labor, particularly the construction trades, recognizes that thousands of jobs are at stake. This is certainly an issue where the GOP has an opportunity to find common ground with Democrats representing minority districts where finding jobs is a lot more important than giving the spotted owl the same legal protections as a prisoner on death row. There is an opportunity here for Republican lawmakers to escape the shackles of partisanship and collaborate across the aisle to actually accomplish something.
This is not to suggest that the Republican Party in California is likely to regain its mojo anytime soon. It is still burdened by a national Republican Party that is welded to its right wing base and the disaffection of ethnic voters who are the fastest growing segment of the electorate. The best hope for increasing GOP numbers in the Legislature is that Democrats will overplay their hand–not an unlikely scenario. In the meantime, individual GOP legislators would be well advised to engage on meaningful issues, rather than just sitting around complaining about how bad the Democrats are.