Despite persistent delusions that it retains plenty of
influence, the California Republican Party is in increasing
danger of descending into third place among party
registration choices of California voters.
That's clear from the newest voter registration figures
released by Secretary of State Debra Bowen, which show a
drop in GOP registration juxtaposed with large increases
for both Democrats and the "no party preference" category
often known as "decline to state" or "independent."
The obvious reason: California Republicans are out of touch
with most voters. Not only do its members of Congress and
the state Legislature display little or no independence
from the party line, but that party line itself deviates
considerably from what every poll shows the majority of the
The figures first: Democratic Party registration jumped
from 6.6 million in January 2008 to 7.4 million this
January. At the same time, decline-to-states went from 3.01
million to 3.6 million. Republicans? They dropped from
5.197 million in January 2008 to 5.17 million four years
Normally, a major party will experience increases in
registration when the White House belongs to the other big
party. That's happened nationally for Republicans, as
President Obama draws strong opposition among conservatives
and has disappointed many others who voted for him four
But in California, Republicans had a net loss of about
27,000 registrants. While Democrats picked up almost
Many analysts see these figures as a sign of disillusion
with political parties in general, as decline-to-state
voters now make up almost 22 percent of the electorate, up
about 10 percent (505,000) from 2008. But the numbers
indicate registered voters' dissatisfaction is concentrated
on only one of the major parties - Republicans.
It's commonplace to hang that phenomenon on the GOP's
strong anti-illegal immigrant stance, which flies in the
face of the single biggest concern for the steadily
increasing corps of Latino voters, who rank immigration
reform that includes some type of possible amnesty as their
top political priority. And that's certainly a big part of
But there are also other areas where California Republicans
are simply out of touch.
Nowhere was that more obvious than in a late-winter
legislative vote on a bill known as the California Disclose
Act, a project of the California Clean Money Campaign,
whose central tenet is that voters should be informed about
who is spending big money to influence government policy,
and how much.
The idea took the form of a bill known as AB 1148, which
sought to require that ads paid for by independent
expenditure groups and ballot measure committees disclose
the names of their three leading "identifiable
contributors" right in the ads.
Democratic Assemblywoman Julia Brownley of Santa Monica and
Ventura County, who carried the bill, originally wanted
legislators to put the question before voters, which would
only have taken majority votes in both the Assembly and
But Democrats on the state Assembly Appropriations
Committee altered the bill to let legislators themselves
make this change in the Fair Political Practices Act,
passed as a 1970s-era initiative. This would have required
a two-thirds vote. The bill almost made it.
All but one of the 52 Democrats in the Assembly voted to
pass it, while all but one of the 28 Republicans there
How out of touch could they be? While it's true that
Republicans pride themselves on sticking to principles even
when those stances are unpopular, the party has never
viewed keeping political donor names secret as a matter of
Practicality, maybe. But it would be hard to make hiding
donors' identities a basic principle. And yet, Republican
Assembly members - with the lone exception of San Diego's
Nathan Fletcher - voted as a bloc to retain today's
Although Brownley has submitted a new, slightly stronger,
Disclose Act with a different number, this probably means
that for at least the next two elections, coming up in June
and November, voters will not know who's really behind many
ads they see for both candidates and ballot
Rather, they will once again see notations citing
misleading names like "Californians for Statewide Smoking
Restrictions" (a big tobacco-funded group that tried to end
local anti-smoking ordinances) or the "California Alliance"
(a trial lawyers' group) or "Californians for Economic and
Environmental Balance" (oil, chemical and utility
companies) as the tag-lines for radio, television and
Essentially, Republicans preserved electoral secrecy for a
while, just as they have kept a lid on all new taxes, for
now. Yet, Republicans see the same public opinion polls as
Democrats, so they had to know that openness is favored by
84 percent of Californians, according to the latest survey
by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute.
So the campaign donor secrecy vote was a clear example of
Republicans voting against a cause the public favors by
large margins. The GOP also opposes popular causes like gun
control and almost all environmental regulations. Is it any
wonder this party steadily loses public support?
Thomas Elias of Santa Monica is an author and columnist.
Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.