Republicans did crawl back. By 1994, they were strong enough to secure a bare-minimum, 41-vote Assembly majority. But because of Machiavellian maneuvering by Democratic Speaker Willie Brown of San Francisco, it took Republicans one year to fully gain control of the house. And Democrats seized it again in 1996.
Then-AssemblyRepublican Leader Jim Brulte of Rancho Cucamonga plotted the brief GOP takeover and later became Senate minority leader. Currently he's being recruited by business leaders and party pragmatists to take over the pathetic state GOP.
I asked him what advice he'd give the few remaining Republican lawmakers.
"Make serious proposals," he suggested.
"A good idea is a good idea regardless of how many Republicans are supporting it. If it's really a good idea, the Democrats will steal it and put their name on it. But the Republicans' goal should be to get good public policy enacted."
They can claim partial credit.
The current Republican leaders don't seem to have a precise strategy.
"We will make the best of a bad situation," Senate GOP Leader Bob Huff of Diamond Bar says. "It's uncharted territory."
"Education is ripe for reform," he adds. "And we'd like to get some traction with the majority party on regulatory reform."
Assembly Republican Leader Connie Conway of Tulare wants to rebrand the GOP. Voters have been hearing an inaccurate message, she asserts.
"This whole national tenor about Republicans being anti-women," Conway continues. "I don't know where that comes from. It's certainly not my message."
Dan Schnur, a former communications strategist for Republican Gov. Pete Wilson and current director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC, says, "Republicans will wait for Democrats to overreach and then call them on it. But they've tried it that way and it hasn't worked out all that well.
"No legislator is sent to Sacramento to point fingers at the other side. Getting something done is better than simply criticizing."
Republicans are weak, but they're not immobile. They can start the long climb back. They can beat Democrats to the punch on practical ideas.