A quick recap. The Examiner's Melissa Griffin and I had traveled to Sacramento to see Karl Rove at The California Republican Convention. A whole weekend of making fun of Republicans. So how come they were making it so bloody hard? As the sun set on the first day of the convention, our Republican Weekend continued...
The first stop was the first of the aforementioned candidates' parties. Harmeet Dhillon is now almost a household name in these parts. On the face of it, she was an early Christmas present for a GOP trying to start a new chapter: an ethnic, female attorney who has worked with the ACLU and is from SAN FRANCISCO! And yet the inevitable autoimmune reaction from the Republicans was almost immediate. She came under fire for being too Bay Area, too liberal and too Muslim. Even though she is a Sikh, not a Muslim.
The next act, however, was not inevitable, nor expected: the local Republicans came down on the nutty trash-talkers like a ton of bricks, to the point where State Representative Darryl Issa stopped his speech that day to point her out and rip them a new one... again. It was a public flogging that is not often seen. Remember, during the presidential election we had to endure the multiple "when rape isn't rape" nonsense from the GOP. Not once did the party yank the leash, so this reaction was a nice departure.
Dhillon's event was definitely something new also. As we walked in, she explained that traditionally Punjabis liked to celebrate with scotch. Or in this case, single malt scotch. Yes, you are reading that correctly, a candidate's party was based around booze. I had to appreciate the constituency-hopping efficiency of an ethnic female lawyer from San Francisco serving Scotch to a bunch of Republicans. That is covering all your bases.
We peeked into the room where her competitor was having his event. We at first thought the candidate was not even attending, maybe spooked by the Dhillon wave that had been rising all day and was now about to crest. We waited for him, watching with amusement the older gentleman working the platters as the DJ. We were particularly impressed with his dance moves as he spun "Brass Monkey." Then, with sudden bemusement we realized that the dancing DJ was the candidate. I'd like to see Gingrich try that. On second thought...
We had acquired several guides at this point, and the next stop was a Luau where the Log Cabin Republicans were doling out the Mai Tais to a packed house. Holding court in the middle of the madness was Mark Standriff, the top PR dog for the California Republicans, and the ringleader for the convention. Mark has a voice made for media, which makes him perfect for the thousand interviews he has to do every day. I joked with him that if they really wanted to connect with the common voter, the GOP needed to have their own drink. Without missing a Latino beat, Mark responded, "it would be a Mexican martini, made with tequila."
As I plowed through these parties, a word kept popping up over and over again: Constituency. Most folks I talked to don't look at their party from the top down, they see it from the bottom up. For them being a Republican is not looking up at the national party, but looking around at their fellow members of the community -- gay and straight -- and the issues that are important to them.
Our posse was growing in size as various San Franciscans started joining us, and soon we found ourselves in a packed elevator heading to the top of the Hyatt to meet the pope. Ok, I am kidding about the pope thing, but only slightly. For one thing, no white smoke is necessary, as the second the doors opened on this convention, everyone in the house knew the new Chairman was going to be ex-State Senate Republican Leader Jim Brulte. Even this selection was an indicator about where the California GOP sees its future. Brulte is known as someone who will reach across the aisle and build coalitions, a master of retail politics who stands in stark contrast to his contentious brethren in Washington. We popped off the elevator and couldn't help but notice that the first song that DJ played as we headed towards Brulte was from a band called "The Spin Doctors." It is politics, after all.
In a corner was Brulte, with not a handler in sight. He was standing for pictures and taking time to talk to everyone who approached for hours. But we had no time to dawdle. Across the street was the Sacramento Convention Center, where the second floor had been taken over by Kevin McCarthy, the House Majority Whip. McCarthy was not fooling around. His crew had been handing out fliers all day long to his event, and he had confidently positioned his shindig as the "hammer event" that would finish off the night. It started at 9 a.m., and when we arrived at well past 11, it did not disappoint.
We walked up the stairs to a seething mass of Republican revelers. Bars were positioned in all four corners, anchoring a mass of people dancing to a band called "Hip Service." When we arrived they were tearing into...wait for it...."Play That Funky Music White Boy." I don't think they saw the irony of that in a Republican event. Or maybe they did. The band then launched into "Baby Got Back." As I looked over the joyful madness, I turned to Melissa and yelled into her ear over the music, "Don't they know they lost?"
But then again, I forgot about the fracture, didn't I? Many people in this group didn't see their national overlords as their future. They were forging their own path, and I for one was starting to get interested in what that path was. Which is why, after a night that seemed to never end, we roused ourselves early to listen to a panel of Republican County Chairs. The panelists passed the microphone to one another for introductions which were unremarkable, at least until they got to Todd Walker, Humboldt County Chair.
And there, on an early Sunday morning in our state's capital, I saw something I never thought I would see. Walker blasted Karl Rove and other party leaders who don't seem to care about the folks on the ground trying to win elections. Now mind you, the whole reason I got in a car 24 hours earlier was the very same Karl Rove. The Karl Rove who most of us use as a totem for the Republican Party in general. And in a way, that is easier, right?
And yet up there on that stage, this unassuming, affable country Republican would have nothing to do with it. He reduced Rove's speech to the following: "Our meeting with Karl Rove, it was presented to us chairs that we were going to have half an hour with Karl Rove and it was going to be great... but it was a seminar! He made a speech and boom, he was out."
I'm sorry, what did he just say? Suddenly I was on the edge of my seat, and Walker was just getting going. "There was nothing, really no input from the chairmen and then we got a picture. Forget the picture man, give us 10 more minutes to talk." Walker went on, "What I find in this party is that there really isn't any identifying of problems; we complain about problems. And when you complain about problems all you're saying is, 'I can't do anything about it.'"
Ouch. And also, bravo. Since November, Republican party leaders have blamed everyone under the sun for their failures, embodied in the snide commentary of Karl Rove. We got jobbed. People don't get us. Democrats are better at Facebook. But these aren't Republicans that live in California; these are Californians that chose to become Republicans, some only recently. Even among these GOP die-hards, the party isn't sacred. Rove said that California was not going to lead any more, but I'm not sure if he said that out of condescension or fear. Because if the Todd Walkers of the world wind up bringing some common sense and community sense to the table, things could get interesting in the Republican Party. Add a few Harmeet Dhillons and a Marcelino Valdez, and Karl Rove should be afraid. And, maybe in time, the Democrats too.