Now on Deck for the California GOP Team: Mary Bono


Two words aptly describe the current condition of the California Republican Party: weak bench. Insiders can count on one hand--maybe one finger--the party’s potential candidates for governor or U.S. senator. The credible names tend to stop at Bill Jones, secretary of state.

Well, here’s one more suggestion, perhaps for the next Senate race: Mary Bono, 39, congresswoman from Palm Springs.

She has star quality and political viability. Here’s why:

* Wide name ID as the widow of entertainer-turned-congressman Sonny Bono. But unlike Sonny, she’s up on the issues. Articulate. Plain-spoken.


* A centrist. Supports abortion rights, although she opposes partial-birth procedures unless the mother’s life is threatened. Backs some gun control, such as a ban on large-

capacity clips. Has an environmental record, having gotten a bill signed creating a 270,000-acre national monument in the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto mountains.

In 2004, when Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer is up for reelection, Bono presumably will have served three terms. Already, there’s talk in the Bono camp of her challenging the liberal Boxer--although, as she notes, any Republican pondering a statewide race “would have to think twice” after recent GOP shellackings.

The single mom, raised in South Pasadena, adds: “I’ve also seen what a campaign does to people. It chews them up and spits them out. But absolutely, who wouldn’t want to be a U.S. senator or governor?”

I was intrigued by Bono when I heard her address a Republican state convention two months ago. Unlike other politicians, she didn’t speak in spin. Afterward--and again in recent days--she expressed frustration with her party:

“The perception is that Republicans are mean-spirited and don’t care about children and needy people. We can’t overcome this with just lip service. We need to get a track record. . . .”


“Abortion doesn’t belong in government. It’s a moral issue.”

“I’m a handgun owner. I keep one to protect myself. But we can find some common-sense gun control.”

“People aren’t clamoring for a tax cut. Some common-sense tax relief, yes. The marriage penalty doesn’t make sense. But people want to focus on paying down the debt and improving the lives of Americans. Social Security. Prescription drug benefits. Education.”



She’s the future. Maybe.

More immediate is a gubernatorial race in 2002. Gov. Gray Davis seems unbeatable to most pols. But not yet to Secretary of State Jones.

Jones thinks the Democratic governor could be vulnerable because of soaring electricity rates and gasoline prices and also his insatiable thirst for special interest money.

Jones was the first politician to attack Davis for his record fund-raising. He has a good platform for that as secretary of state, the man who oversees California elections and has streamlined campaign finance reporting.

But Jones had indicated at the Republican National Convention that he would not run for governor if Bush failed to carry California. If Bush couldn’t win here--with a united party and many millions for TV--what Republican could?


The Texan got trounced. Now Jones is thinking he might run anyway, if Bush winds up in the White House. “That alone is going to help us reshape the Republican image in California,” he says.

A Republican president also could help a GOP gubernatorial candidate raise money.

“It’s going to be significant whether he becomes president,” Jones notes. “Significant for California and for me personally. . . .

“The jury is still out. It can be done. Anybody can be beaten on any given day.”



There’s also another new wrinkle in the California GOP--a wrinkle as in folded checks.

One hundred very wealthy Republican entrepreneurs--including some billionaires--

have formed a “political action committee” with the purpose of bankrolling more centrist, pragmatic candidates. The PAC--The New Majority Committee--is based in the bastion of conservatism, Orange County. It also intends to open branches in L.A., San Diego and the Silicon Valley.

It donated $250,000 to seven legislative candidates this election; won four and lost three. It spent $100,000 registering 27,000 Republicans. It gave $2.6 million to Bush and the state GOP.

“We’re in it for the long haul--distance racers, not sprinters,” says the chairman, venture capitalist Tom Tucker.

He co-founded the PAC, Tucker says, because “our messengers were not very good [and] I was disturbed by irrelevant litmus tests . . . about abortion, sexual orientation, guns. . . .”


New Majority Committee, meet Mary Bono.