California GOP Needs to Learn to Love California Again

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

The California GOP’s problems aren’t merely about expenses or organizing, about the good government community’s war against parties, or about immigration or a lack of moderation.

When it comes to messaging, the state Republican party’s chief problem is that it sounds like it hates California.

Republicans should listen to themselves. Moderate or conservative, coastal or inland, they offer a never-ending litany of California as a failed state. It’s nothing but negative: on taxes, on regulation, on demography, on values. The messaging is all about people leaving the state (and why that’s a good idea). What’s the last time you heard Republicans in California talk about how great the state is?

It is this negativity – not their positions on issues – that puts Republicans at odds with most Californians. Most Californians like it here. And they want to stay. This is especially true of the young, diverse generation of Californians with whom the party has so little credibility. Surveys show that young Latinos and Asians who were born and raised in California are the Californians who are the most loyal to California. The California Civic Health Index reports that more than 80 percent of such folks want to stay here, settle here, and build their lives and communities and dreams here.

It’s hard to reach people when you’re running down the place they love and call home.

That said, Republicans are right to strike critical notes. The state’s governing system is an unholy mess that needs a total redesign. But the government is not the same thing as a state – a distinction that Republicans ought to appreciate. The state is a wonderful, beautiful place of beautiful people of all kinds, from all over the world, who are struggling to make a better life. It’s the world capital of the beautiful struggle. Why can’t Republicans talk incessantly about that – and about their ideas to make that struggle a little bit more beautiful?

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