Brulte In Effort To Overhaul State GOP

(December 14)   SACRAMENTO—In the wake of the most resounding electoral defeat the GOP has ever sustained in California, former Republican Party standout Jim Brulte is looking to seize the reins of the party’s state political machinery in an effort to reestablish Republican relevance in the nation’s most populous state.
Working from his native San Bernardino County, which is one of the last Republican bastions in the Golden State, Brulte is seeking step-by-step to regain the position of prominence he held in the Republican Party during the 14 years he served in California’s legislature.
Figuring that in this winter of the Grand Old Party’s discontent now is the time for all good Republicans to come to the aid of their party, Brulte has taken up the gauntlet and what will prove to be either a Herculean task or Quixotic effort to resuscitate the Party of Lincoln. Statewide, as a growing and energized contingent of Latino and younger voters registered as Democrats and voted overwhelmingly in support of candidates from their party, the Republicans suffered a defeat of catastrophic proportion, with the Democrats capturing well over two-thirds majorities in both houses of the legislature, locking in a Democratic advantage at the statehouse while governor Jerry Brown, a Democrat, holds sway over the state’s administrative function. Democrats have firm possession of 84 seats in the state’s 120-seat legislature. This supermajority provides the Democrats with the ability to raise taxes without the support of any Republican votes. Emboldened by the position of power they now hold, elements within the Democratic Party in the state are calling for the elimination of any remaining tax breaks for businesses.
In California’s Congressional delegation, the outlook for Republicans is equally dismal, with just 15 of the state’s 53 members of Congress now being Republicans.
Whether the California Republican Party can stage a comeback at all, under Brulte’s leadership or that of anyone else, is a question of some moment. It appears highly doubtful that the party could turn things around within the next or even the next two or three election cycles, given the immensity of the electoral debacle last month and the trends it portends. Nevertheless, those most enthusiastic about the party and Republican issues and values, believe that Brulte, who is no stranger to political adversity and Democratic skullduggery, possesses the requisite mettle and strategic orientation to carry it off if it is to be done.
Known as the “Fat Man” as a consequence of the 349 pounds he carried around on his 6 foot 4 inch frame at the time he was the Republican leader in the Assembly in the mid-1990s, Brulte led a charmed existence within Republican circles. In his twenties, he was Nancy Reagan’s appointments secretary when she was First Lady. Subsequently, he went to work for then-Republican U.S. Senator S.I “Sam”. Hayakawa and then obtained a position with the Republican National Committee, and was a civilian employee in the Department of Defense during the latter years of the Reagan Administration. His last assignment in Washington was as a member of the advance staff for then-vice president George H. W. Bush. He was sent back to California as part of a party strategy to install him as an elected official. In 1990, 65th Assembly District Assemblyman Chuck Bader, a former Pomona mayor and an up-and-coming Republican, was instructed by his party to forego reelection in the 65th District, where he would almost assuredly have been victorious, to allow Brulte to run in his stead. Bader, ever loyal to the GOP, did as he was instructed, and futilely challenged longtime Democrat Ruben Ayala for his State Senate seat. The end of Bader’s tenure as an elected politician gave rise to Brulte’s career as an elected official, which lasted for 14 years, at which time the term limits Brulte had championed in the state Assembly forced him to leave office. During eleven of those fourteen years, Brulte was the Republican Caucus chairman or his party leader in whichever legislative house he occupied. In late 1994 and early 1995, Brulte came tantalizingly close to breaking Democrat Willie Brown’s 14-year-long reign as Assembly Speaker, widely viewed as the second most powerful position in state government. After the November 1994 election and recounts, the GOP held a razor-thin majority in the Assembly, and Brulte appeared destined to become speaker. In a classic example of backroom maneuvering, however, Brown was able to remain as speaker by persuading one of the Republican assemblymen, Paul Horcher, to vote for him in return for some prize committee assignments. Brulte and other outraged Republicans then moved to successfully recall Horcher from office but before a Republican replacement could be installed, Brown again reached across the aisle to appeal to Republican Assemblywoman Doris Allen, arranging for her to be installed as speaker with the vote of the entire Democratic contingent in the Assembly. Thus, Brulte was again thwarted from becoming Assembly Speaker. Willie Brown would eventually leave the Assembly to become mayor of San Francisco. When he did, the Republicans captured control, briefly, of the Assembly, but that eventuality came too late to allow Brulte, who was being termed out of the Assembly and was thus running for State Senate, to become Assembly Speaker. That honor instead went to Curt Pringle.
In his bruising battles against Brown, Brulte grew as a strategist. Whereas Brown had cultivated and amassed power by vectoring campaign contributions obtained from special interest groups that were at his disposal to his Democratic allies, Brulte in earnest began to tap into money from right-wing groups and dispensed it in the most efficient manner possible to further the Republican cause.
Basically a conservative, but a pragmatist who could reach across to moderates when some political mileage was to be gained, Brulte was nevertheless a cunning strategist ready to push the envelope and secure whatever advantage the leverage he and his party possessed at any given time with regard to any specific or general issue.
In November 1996 Brulte was elected in the 31st state Senate District and in April 2000 he became the State Senate Republican Leader. He departed as an elected official in 2004, having served the maximum time he could under California’s term limit law. He went to work almost immediately for  California Strategies, a lobbying and public affairs consulting firm, staffed in large measure by former elected officials and former high level government employees.
In jumping directly back into the partisan fray, Brulte has his work cut out for him. For the first time since party affiliation records have been compiled, fewer than 30 percent of the state’s voters are registered as Republicans. The state’s demographics show that portion of the population from which the GOP draws most of its voters – upwardly mobile young white professionals, non-unionized tradesmen and older white males – being eclipsed by minority voters, who tend to identify themselves as Democrats.
Moreover, the internecine fighting among Republicans reached fever pitch this year, partly as a consequence of California’s open primaries, which provided for the two top vote-getters in June regardless of party affiliation to qualify for the run-off in November. This resulted in several head-to-head contests between Republicans in the congressional, state senatorial and assembly districts in which Republicans still hold a registration advantage. Curiously, the state party devoted a significant part of its resources to some of its Republican candidates engaged in  campaigns against other Republicans while providing less funding to Republicans who were simultaneously waging campaigns against Democrats. Some of those Republican vs. Democrat races were highly competitive. In this way, the party actually ran campaigns against Republican candidates that were more vitriolic than those which were run against Democratic opponents. One of those was incumbent congressman Gary Miller’s congressional campaign against state senator Bob Dutton. Dutton had been the Republican leader in the State Senate. He was assailed in a number of attack pieces paid for by his own party. Brulte, if he is successful in capturing the party chairman’s position when the California GOP meets in March, will need to convince party donors, many of whom supported the Republican candidates who were the targets of those attack campaigns, that they should continue to stock the party’s coffers with money.
Despite the challenges, many of them daunting, Brulte comes across as hell bent on assuming the party chairmanship. He appears well on his way to doing that, having lined up numerous party stalwarts and current office holders to support him, while no other figure of equal or less gravitas than he  has emerged to oppose him.

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