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Politics

Capitol Journal: California Republicans have nowhere to go but up — and Assemblyman Chad Mayes could be the one to lead them there

Chad Mayes
Assembly Minority Leader Chad Mayes (R-Yucca Valley) speaks in the Capitol on Jan. 11, 2016.
(Rich Pedroncelli / AP)

Assembly Republican Leader Chad Mayes is old school. Really old school. But he may represent the future for the California GOP if it can survive and rebuild.

One thing the Yucca Valley legislator definitely is not is a Donald Trump Republican. Mayes, 39, is civil and respectful. He doesn’t call people liars or crooks or losers.

In fact, Mayes says, he has never run a negative ad against any campaign opponent.

He turns the other cheek if attacked, and not just during the Christmas season.

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Mayes did not endorse his party’s presidential nominee. Even today, the GOP leader won’t say whom he voted for — except it wasn’t Democrat Hillary Clinton. The lawmaker hints he wrote in somebody.

During the primaries, he supported Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

After the November election, Mayes wrote a scalding op-ed piece for The Desert Sun newspaper. “Hallelujah!” he began. “The 2016 election is over and we can finally all breathe a sigh of relief.

“Honestly, I can’t remember an election season as dark and divisive as the one we just experienced. The mean-spirited and fear mongering tactics used by both parties brought out the worst in all of us.”

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“Running for office,” he added, “doesn’t have to be a blood sport. We can and should be civil, intelligent and honorable in our campaigning.”

If you look at Mayes’ childhood, it’s easy to understand why he hasn’t warmed up to the inflammatory president-elect, even if voters in his Assembly district did support Trump.

Mayes’ father was — still is — the pastor of a small church in Yucca Valley. At Sunday service, Mayes continues to strum the guitar while his mother plays the piano. He graduated from Liberty University, a Baptist college in Virginia.

“In the home where I grew up,” Mayes told me, “the first thing taught was that all people are equal in God’s eyes….

“My mom taught me that if I can’t say something nice about someone, don’t say anything. I try to stick to that. In politics, that’s sometimes hard.

“You have to choose to turn the other cheek. When you say awful, horrible things about people, it’s hard to repair that and have working relationships.”

Updates from Sacramento »

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One rap on Mayes around the state Capitol is that he doesn’t have the hard edge necessary to confront the majority party.

“Look,” he responds, “over the last 20 years in American politics you’ve seen all sorts of people scream into bullhorns, write nasty e-mails and try to get on radio and TV to say outrageous things just for the sake of getting on radio and TV. And yet that doesn’t solve problems.

“The way you solve problems is to sit down and talk. Be reasonable and don’t scream and yell at each other. Trying to play hard-edged politics hasn’t gotten us anywhere.”

Mayes says he was offended by Democrats when the new Legislature was sworn in Dec. 5 because they used the celebratory occasion to attack the president-elect.

Mayes struck back with the harshest condemnation he could think of, asserting that the Democrats reminded him of Trump.

“Democrats stole a page out of President-Elect Trump’s campaign playbook and pushed a rhetorical, divisive agenda designed to inflame tensions many of us seek to soothe,” the GOP leader asserted in a prepared statement.

“California has the highest poverty rate in the nation, our roads are crumbling and the cost of housing is double the national average. The campaign is over. It’s time to come together and move forward as Californians.”

There’s increasingly less reason, however, for Democrats to move forward with Republicans. In November, Democrats picked up three seats in the Assembly and one in the Senate to recapture supermajorities in both houses.

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If Democrats can unite — truly an iffy concept on controversial issues — they don’t need Republican help to pass anything.

Republican voter registration keeps slipping in California. It’s down to 26% of the total. Democrats have nearly 45%. Independents are over 24% and most lean Democratic.

How can Republicans regroup in this blue state and build back enough strength to hold their own in the Legislature and perhaps again elect candidates for statewide office?

“People have to think we like them before they’ll like us,” Mayes says. “The Republican brand in California is not doing so well, even among Republicans. It’s important to do things a little bit differently than we’ve done. And it starts with civility.”

Mayes, like the preceding GOP leader, former Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen of Modesto, doesn’t talk much about hot-button social issues such as abortion, gay rights and illegal immigration.

He and most Republicans these days focus on traditional middle-class issues such as taxes, education, transportation and small business.

They’re all a little late doing that in California. But Democratic lawmakers, with an emphasis on identity politics — ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation — are leaving a vacuum among their formerly core working-class constituency that Trump moved into nationally.

Mayes says poverty “is the No. 1 issue in California.” And when was the last time you heard a Republican say that? He blames high housing costs and regulatory hurdles that discourage development and job creation.

Clear, precise messages delivered in civil tones coupled with sensible proposals to pad pocketbooks — along with education reforms — could do wonders for the California GOP.

As Mayes says, that’s more productive than calling your opponents liars and crooks.

george.skelton@latimes.com

Follow @LATimesSkelton on Twitter

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