Friday, January 7, 2011




As the California Republican Party heads into a much-needed rebuilding year, still reeling from the huge losses it endured while other Republicans were winning big in most parts of America, it is once again whistling past a graveyard.

Last year’s GOP losses leave Democrats occupying all six statewide offices and both of California’s U.S. Senate seats.

But the party still won’t seriously consider moving into what has obviously become the mainstream of California political thought; it has no notion of attempting to win back women voters by moderating its Tea Party-like anti-abortion stance or its hard-line anti-amnesty position on illegal immigration.

Those positions worked fine in many other places during a mid-term election that, as usual, saw the President’s political party take big losses. But they alienated a lot of California voters.

Most offended of all were Latinos, who voted more than 4-1 for new Gov. Jerry Brown over the Republican candidate, former eBay executive Meg Whitman. Whitman spent more than $15 million on television advertising and slick Spanish-language mailers aimed solely at Latino voters, yet some exit polls showed Hispanics nixing her by an 87-13 percent margin.

Despite this, Republicans persist in thinking they can win over Latino voters with hard-line conservative rhetoric. True, in summer and fall, Whitman tried tacking back somewhat from her tough anti-illegal immigrant stances of the spring primary election. But it didn’t wash, as Latinos turned out to have a memory.

Whitman also trotted out former Gov. Pete Wilson as her campaign chairman, a largely honorary post that carried no real clout but gave Wilson a podium from which to speak. Every time he did, many Latinos flashed back to 1994, when Wilson used grainy scenes of illegals running across the Mexican border at San Ysidro in commercials during his reelection campaign. Those commercials promoted the draconian Proposition 187, which would have deprived illegals of virtually all government services had courts not struck it down. It remains the single law Latinos detest most, in part because it sparked a year-long spate of hate crimes against them.

As long as Republicans continue to honor the man behind 187, they will never again win the substantial percentages of Hispanic votes that Arnold Schwarzenegger did in his two campaigns. Polls during those campaigns showed Schwarzenegger’s appeal to Latinos did not result from any positions he took, but stemmed from his movie star status. Enough younger Latinos thought it would be “cool” to have him as governor to net him about 37 percent of the Hispanic vote, about what any Republican would need to win.

Schwarzenegger didn’t give Wilson a prominent role and he didn’t talk much about immigration, either.

But when the GOP ran moderate former state Sen. Abel Maldonado for lieutenant governor, even though he’s of Latino ancestry, Hispanic voters nixed him after he took a hard-line stance on immigration amnesty, just like the rest of the statewide Republican ticket.

All this does not mean the GOP has no hope to win Latino votes, even though Whitman and Maldonado didn’t get many last fall. All it has to do is go softer on immigration and stress moral values that appeal to both the huge Catholic majority among California Hispanics and the increasing number of fundamentalist Protestants among them.

And it must choose candidates who can avoid alienating Latinos when their full backgrounds become known, people who have not fired longtime Hispanic employees the moment their immigration status might turn problematic, as Whitman did her nine-year housekeeper.

Plus, it has to move a bit toward the center on budget issues that affect Latinos strongly, things like school funding, after-school programs and in-home care for the disabled elderly.

Essentially, Republicans need to convince Latinos they are not hopelessly prejudiced against them. This may prove difficult so long as ultra-conservatives dominate the party. Maybe the new open primary system will cause the GOP to nominate some candidates not guaranteed to alienate the bulk of Latinos.

If so, California Republicans could make a big comeback over the next three or four years. But there are no signs they realize this. They’re still looking for ways around the open primary. No voices have risen in the party to advocate for immigrant rights.

All of which makes Republican talk of winning over substantial numbers of Hispanic voters – a tune they’ve sung soon after every election of the last 17 years – nothing more than denial of reality, a form of whistling past the graveyard.

Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit

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