GOP governors kick off conference in San Diego

The theme of the 2010 Republican Governors Assn. conference, which began here Wednesday, is that the party has a new crop of rising stars, including more women and ethnic minorities than in the past.

"The Republican Party has some women who are just awesome," said John Kasich, governor-elect of Ohio.

Indeed, Govs.-elect Susana Martinez of New Mexico, Nikki Haley of South Carolina and Mary Fallin of Oklahoma were given center stage at Wednesday's opening events. Ditto with Brian Sandoval, governor-elect of Nevada, at an open session called the New Face of the GOP.

But though the faces may be different, the message is classic Reaganesque conservatism: Government is strangling the private sector; taxes need to be cut; regulations need to be loosened or dumped; and states need to fight the federal government every step of the way.

The Democratic Party, in Washington or state capitals, shouldn't look to the Republican governors for a spirit of compromise or bipartisanship if the mood of this conference is any indication of things to come.

"We have a big and corrupt government," Martinez said of her state.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, vice chairman of the association and a likely candidate for president, said that adding more women and ethnic minorities to the Republican ranks need not be done at the expense of changing the party's core values.

Rather, he said, it is a matter of showing that the party is "more welcoming" and spreading the message of a pro-business, keep-government-small philosophy.

Although the opening roundtable and a news conference afterward were open to reporters, sessions held with representatives of the healthcare and energy industries were not. Also closed was a session about tax reform.

The buoyancy felt by the party after its advances on Nov. 2 was ever present — particularly the victories by Kasich in Ohio and Tom Corbett, the Republican governor-elect in Pennsylvania. The two states could be crucial to the GOP's drive to take back the White House in 2012, many of the politicians said.

If nothing else, two years of a Democratic administration have been good for attendance at the annual meeting of the Republican governors. Last year, 500 people attended; this year, at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront, attendance topped 900.

Not all the anti-government talk was confined to the conference.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry was at a bookstore in La Jolla signing copies of his new book, "Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America from Washington."

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