Apparently, the California Republican Party is hesitant to support out-going Assembly Minority Leader Kristin Olsen’s possible challenge of Democratic State Senator Cathleen Galgiani (SD 5). The reason being that local and state business groups have determined that Galgiani is a sufficiently pro-business Democrat in an otherwise business-skeptic Democratic caucus.

Abandoning one of its legislative leaders is sufficiently ridiculous, but what makes this even more so is that SD 5 is winnable for the California Republican Party. For California Republicans to become a political and policy player again in the state, it must start winning districts exactly like SD 5, a mildly Democratic-leaning district.  For instance, in 2012, Galgiani won by just 1 point, even while President Obama and Senator Feinstein were winning SD 5 by 11 points.  Olsen is perfectly positioned to win SD 5; she has overwhelmingly won her Assembly district which overlaps with about half of SD 5 and she has crafted a pragmatic policy persona that focuses on finding solutions to California’s challenging problems. 

Moreover, the California Republican Party shouldn’t be taking its cues from business groups.  Yes, Republicans are the pro-business party, but business groups are just like any other special interest with an eye to winning legislative battles.  Groups like CalChamber are supposed to protect their consistencies, not advance political parties.  But equally so, political parties are not supposed to blindly advance special interests’ agendas, but rather promote a common set of principles.  It is equally inappropriate for the Republican Party to take electoral tactic guidance from business groups as it is for the Democratic Party to do so from labor unions.  While their beliefs may align at times, they are not extensions of one another.

Until Republicans start winning again, business groups will most assuredly seek out somewhat friendly Democrats.  And that is exactly what Galgiani is – somewhat pro-business.  In the recent CalChamber legislative scorecard, Galgiani voted with business interests about 62% of the time in 2015: better than most Democrats, but significantly below Olsen’s 92% score.   Note that this highlights the short-term focus of special interests.  It would absolutely be better for business interests to have someone like Olsen in the State Senate over someone like Galgiani.  California Republican leadership should be making exactly that case to business groups.

This is concerning for two reasons.

1) California is under one-party rule, which only benefits the leaders of the party in power and their allied special interests.  One-party rule doesn’t yield good public policy.  Just as competition in the market improves products and services, competition in politics improves policy outcomes.

2) In 2018, Republican Senator Anthony Cannella is termed out of office.  While Cannella has won this    D+6 seat easily, Jerry Brown won SD 12 with about 55% of the two-party vote in 2010 and 2014 and President Obama won it with almost 60% of the two-party vote in both 2008 and 2012. This will be a challenging seat for Republicans to hold with a popular incumbent and Democrats only need to pick up 1 seat to win back the super-majority in that chamber.

Republicans should be working to revive California’s two-party system and in doing so, ensuring one-party rule doesn’t become even more expansive with regained legislative super-majorities. Forfeiting SD 5 is just poor long-term strategic planning, which is to the detriment of California and the party.

Cross-posted at California Realpolitik.