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Editorial: Heaven forbid, a Republican willing to work with Democrats

Assembly Republican Leader Chad Mayes (R-Yucca Valley) walking to the GOP caucus meeting where he resigned from his position in Sacramento, Calif. on Aug. 24.
Assembly Republican Leader Chad Mayes (R-Yucca Valley) walking to the GOP caucus meeting where he resigned from his position in Sacramento, Calif. on Aug. 24.
(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

If the California Republican Party is looking for a path to irrelevance in Sacramento, pushing aside Chad Mayes as the GOP leader in the Assembly is a good way to get there.

The Yucca Valley assemblyman and seven Republican colleagues had the temerity last month to support a bill to extend the state’s cap-and-trade program to limit greenhouse gas emissions, a system that some other Republicans deride as a burdensome tax on businesses and consumers. Mayes and the other GOP nonconformists deserve credit for setting aside partisanship to tackle the existential threat of climate change. Instead, Mayes got the boot, and Republican legislators are getting a reminder to hew to the party line — or else.

On Thursday, Mayes gave into the pressure and said he will step down as Republican Assembly leader to make way for Brian Dahle (R-Bieber) after the session ends next month. This may be what GOP officials want, but it is short-sighted and wrongheaded. Mayes was pushed out for providing exactly the type of leadership the state’s shrinking Republican Party needs right now, assuming it wants to have any kind of say in how the state is governed.

Being ideologically pure isn’t as important as delivering the services people need and tackling the problems they want tackled.

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Mayes didn’t just vote for AB 398, the cap-and-trade bill; he worked with the Democrats (you know, the party with the supermajority in both houses of the state Legislature) to make it more palatable to fiscal conservatives. One concession that came out of the negotiations: The measure scraps a fee the state imposes to pay for rural firefighting, a levy that conservatives have been trying to kill ever since it was passed. In fact, Mayes’ efforts resulted in a bill that was so business friendly, it made environmentalists uncomfortable. (Also, it’s worth noting that AB 398 was backed by the California Chamber of Commerce and other business groups that favor free-market solutions — like cap and trade.) We didn’t prefer the changes, but they certainly made the measure more appealing to Republicans.

You’d think that the party would be lauding Mayes for getting concessions even while being hampered by the GOP’s super-minority status. Well, there was one prominent Republican singing Mayes’ praise. Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who signed the first cap-and-trade bill, wrote on Facebook: “I hope Republicans around the country can learn from the example of Assemblyman Mayes and his fellow Republicans that we can fight for free market policies to clean up our environment for our children at the same time we fight for a booming economy.”

So much for that. And so much for the state’s GOP, which has been steadily losing ground among voters statewide and in longtime Republican districts. The party won’t gain lost ground unless it can stop focusing exclusively on foiling Democrats rather than representing the interests of all Californians.

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Obviously, Republicans want a smaller state government, lower taxes, less regulation and more local autonomy than Democrats typically do. But when it comes to elevating the party in the minds of state voters, being ideologically pure isn’t as important as delivering the services people need and tackling the problems they want tackled.

And in this state, residents from across the political spectrum say they want action on climate change. The handful of Republicans who voted for the cap-and-trade bill might have been bucking the party line, but they were responding to the majority of Californians. A recent survey by the Public Policy Institute of California found that 81% of Californians believe climate changes is a serious threat to the state’s economy and quality of life. In fact, 25% of the Republicans surveyed said the threat was “very serious.” Meanwhile, 53% of the Republicans surveyed support requiring all of the state’s electricity to come from renewable energy sources by 2045, the premise of SB 100 by Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles). Yet not one of the Assembly Republicans who had a chance to do so voted for the bill when it was in committee, and that includes their newly minted leader Dahle, who also opposed the cap-and-trade bill.

That’s disappointing. The GOP needs more leaders like Mayes who can push the party past its knee-jerk obstructionism, not those who are afraid to compromise in order to address important issues facing the state. That’s not good for California or for the future of the state’s Republican Party.

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