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Opinion

Editorial: A glimmer of hope that California’s GOP is re-finding its way

Jessica Patterson, candidate for chair of the California Republican Party, speaks to delegates after
Jessica Patterson, speaks to delegates during the California Republican Party convention in Sacramento, Calif. on Feb. 23.
(Steve Yeater / Associated Press)

California Republicans made a wise decision at their convention Sunday, rejecting the rabble-rousing, Trumpian polemicist Travis Allen as their next party leader in favor of a young woman whose inclusive message is the only thing likely to stop the GOP’s free fall in this famously liberal state.

Allen, a former state assemblyman from Huntington Beach, ran for the party chairmanship fresh off of his defeat in the 2018 gubernatorial primary — a drubbing that should have led to extended soul-searching rather than an instant return to the arena. His gubernatorial campaign strategy seemed to be predicated on the theory that the only way for the GOP to make a comeback in California was to embrace the divisive, racist-adjacent tactics of President Trump and thereby awaken millions of checked-out conservatives. That theory was exploded in June, yet incredibly Allen doubled down in his bid to be party chairman, rallying his loyalists with cries of “Build the Wall” and “Take Back California.”

Party delegates evidently recognized that Allen was selling a losing formula in California and instead elected Jessica Patterson, the party’s first millennial and first woman to serve as party chair, by a wide margin. The 38-year-old political operative from Simi Valley is also a Latina, and that certainly doesn’t hurt as the party tries to rebuild its membership.

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Patterson’s election is a hopeful sign for more rational Republicans like Assemblyman Chad Mayes (R-Yucca Valley). Mayes founded the the political group New Way California (with support from former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger) after he was dumped as minority leader in 2017 for casting a vote in favor of the Democratic cap and trade bill. Mayes’ group is urging the GOP to rebuild the party in a way that is less polarizing and more inclusive. “I think this proves the point that the party knows it needs to change, that the party is ready to change,” Mayes said shortly after the vote on Sunday morning.

Just one look at the some 1,200-plus delegates crowded into the party’s general session in a Sacramento convention hall on Sunday shows why: a sea of white faces and white hair. The GOP is aging out of state politics because of its failure to attract membership from among Latinos, Asian-Americans, LGBT or anyone under 40. Not surprisingly, the number of registered Republicans in California has continued to drop. Republicans are now about a quarter of all registered voters in the state, the party’s lowest share in history. Whether that turns out to be a nadir or just a milestone on the way down will have a lot to do with how thoroughly Patterson and the party rebuilds its brand.

The Times editorial board disagrees with the Republican party on many issues. But we recognize the value of a viable two-party system for a healthy democracy. One-party systems have an unpleasant habit of devolving into cronyism and corruption. To that end, we’ll be glad if the California GOP can re-find its way.

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