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Political Orphans’ Protest Mostly Stirs Up Sympathy

Call me an old softie, but after awhile I started feeling sorry for the pickets standing in the gathering gloom Friday night outside the Nixon Library.

After all, who doesn’t sympathize with orphans?

They call themselves the true Republicans, but they are, in fact, political orphans--the activists that neither party in California wants. They’re out there on the right wing of the Republican Party, and Pete Wilson doesn’t want them and of course the Democrats don’t, either.

So, like motherless children, they’re left out in the cold like they were Friday night, chanting and rallying among themselves and telling each other that they’ll be a force in ’92.

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All they wanted was a chance to confront Wilson, their candidate for the Judas Iscariot-in-Politics Award, but after waiting for three hours, they never even got a glimpse of the governor. He went in a side door to deliver a speech to party regulars, paying about as much attention to the demonstrators as a Democrat would.

The protesters, numbering between 40 and 50 most of the time (including some children and teen-agers), represented a veritable smorgasbord of conservative causes. In no particular order of importance, they carried picket signs knocking Wilson for:

* Raising taxes.

* Backing modest gun control legislation.

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* Supporting abortion rights.

* His presumed support of a gay rights bill in the Legislature.

In fact, for much of the night, they referred to the governor as “Pete Feinstein,” a reference to Dianne Feinstein, the Democrat whom Wilson beat last year for the governorship.

Is this any way to treat the governor, I asked Jeff Greene, 23, the appointed spokesman for the motley crew of protesters.

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“Is what he did any way to treat a citizen?” Greene replied. “Or a voter? We knew he’d be bad on gun control, on abortion and family values, but the one thing he did promise us was that he wouldn’t raise taxes. He said Dianne Feinstein was a tax-and-spend Democrat and he was not. Now we realize that was a lot of B.S.”

Worse yet, Greene said, is that Feinstein would have been better for conservatives because she wouldn’t have been able to get the Republican support for her tax proposals that Wilson got for his.

The centerpiece of the demonstration, clearly designed for television, was an effigy of Wilson that the group eventually tarred and feathered. “That’s what they did to tax collectors back in Revolutionary times,” Greene said. The group didn’t have tar, so they used molasses and, truth be told, it made kind of a mess outside the library.

Antics like that probably won’t go down too well with the party regulars--like the well-heeled types who showed up Friday night, many of whom looked at the demonstrators as you would at relatives who never learned to use silverware.

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Even Greene acknowledged that demonstrations are somewhat foreign to conservative Republicans. “The reason we don’t have 200 people here is that Republicans don’t like to get out in the street,” he said.

The demonstrators were delivering a message, Greene said. Namely, that conservatives in the California Republican Party won’t be played for chumps again, being sold a Pete Wilson when they really want something much more conservative.

“People swallowed their best impulses (in the ’90 election),” Greene said. “They knew they didn’t like Pete Wilson for lots of reasons, but it was stuffed down their throats that they had to support him for party unity.”

That won’t happen again, Greene said. No longer will the party be able to take support from conservatives for granted by figuring they would never vote for a Democrat. Instead, Greene said, conservatives will mount a primary challenge to Wilson and, if that fails, perhaps sit out the ’94 election.

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As engaging and forthright as he is, I doubt that, at 23 and with virtually no political clout, Jeff Greene speaks for great hordes of Republicans in California, even those on the right wing.

So, maybe the little molasses-and-feathering outside the Nixon Library should be dismissed as a little street theater and nothing more.

It will be left for other arenas and heavier hitters to sort out whether Wilson and his new Republican cadre have anything to fear from their right wing.

As for Friday night’s demonstration?

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“I think it was a success, if only for the press coverage,” Greene said, happily. “We got interviewed by all the major media.”

If young Jeff knew more about the media, he wouldn’t have been surprised.

Give us a good orphan story, and we always come running.

Dana Parsons’ column appears Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Readers may reach Parsons by writing to him at The Times Orange County Edition, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, Calif. 92626, or calling (714) 966-7821.

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