New presidents often provide a down ballot boost for their parties — not so in California.
On Election Day, President-elect Donald Trump lost the state by a 2-1 margin, while Democrats clinched the majority in both state houses.
Republican lawmakers hoping to regain footing stand at a unique crossroad: how do you serve your state while avoiding a fight with a polarized party?
For answers, Take Two spoke to two California Republicans from two generations:
- Pete Wilson, former Governor of California (1991-1999)
- Mary Perez, vice president of the USC GOP
(Answers have been edited for clarity and brevity.)
Governor Wilson, from your vantage point, why did Trump fare so poorly in California?
Wilson: California is an outlier, and it has been for a couple of reasons that I think are going to change.
One is that there has been a financial advantage in most elections. In the 2010 governor's race, Meg Whitman was criticized for spending so much of her own money, which was hypocritical on the part of the people making the criticism because they — through the coalition of public employee unions — spent at least as much for Jerry Brown.
But do you think the issues just didn't resonate? That the issues that Trump used as the base of his campaign simply did not resonate with a lot of Californians?
Wilson: I think that there was the same component that exists in the other large states, in which people who are willing to work for the state are compelled by state law to join a public employee union and then to suffer the monthly extraction of an involuntary political contribution from their paychecks. That's a huge advantage for the Democratic Party. I think that we've seen that it's been decisive in states like New York, Massachusetts, and California.
Many analysts have said that Proposition 187 was a turning point for Republicans in the state. That was back in 1994. It aimed to make illegal immigrants ineligible for public benefits. This was a proposition that you supported. Do you think that this had some unintentional consequences in a state where Latinos now make up 28 percent of the state's voting-age citizens?
Wilson: I think what you're really asking, Libby, is, 'was it unwise not to pander?'
Don't you think that it still is something that current Republican leaders are coping with? The feeling that maybe Republicans didn't have their backs in the 90s?
Wilson: Well, it's a false belief if they do have that. It's not surprising because the campaign that was undertaken against [Proposition] 187 was one that was aimed at trying to persuade Latino Californians, those who were in the country legally, that they were not welcome. That was not true. It did not have anything to do with race. It did have to with abiding by the law of the land.
Mary, what is your take on how the relationship between Republicans and communities of color has evolved over the years, and what can be done in the future to repair that relationship or grow that relationship?
Perez: I think a good example for the California Republican party to follow is the Texas Republican Party emerging in the 90s with George W. Bush's inclusive, pro-immigration approach, and by emphasizing economic and opportunity and education for Latinos.
Being a Latino myself, our community is very focused on educational opportunities for our youth and jobs. We're one of the hardest-working minority groups out there. I think a lot of us are concerned — does the middle-class have a place for Latinos?
I think that the outreach has waved in different spectrums. Some of it has been successful, and some of it has been not so successful. Coming from the Orange County Republican Party, we've made efforts reaching out to Latinos within communities like Santa Ana, who have a proportionally high number of Latinos living there.
I think if we continue to follow the path and reach out to Latinos by a grassroots approach, to continue to talk to them, to explain to them what conservative principles are, we may find that a lot of Latinos do espouse conservative principles.