Brulte, Rego & Hagman In Separate Efforts To Rejuvenate County, State GOP

With nearly two years before the next set of statewide elections, the foundering California Republican Party is seeking to remake itself. Locally, one currently established GOP Sacramento officeholder, Assemblyman Curt Hagman, is loading up to displace current San Bernardino County GOP leader Robert Rego.
Unknown at this point is whether Hagman can effectuate the coup he envisions, and whether his intended vanquishing of Rego, if executed, will have a salutary result for the party in San Bernardino County. As the Republicans have receded into political eclipse in California over the last few years, San Bernardino County  has remained as one of the last few remaining bastions of Republicanism in the state. While some believe Hagman will be able to assist the county party to tap into a wider variety of fundraising sources and expand the grassroots organization that Rego has struggled to build up, some party members fear a Donnybrook between Hagman and Rego could in the end hinder the party rather than advance it. Even if Hagman can marshal forces from outside San Bernardino County and match that with money based upon his fundraising capability as a Sacramento politician to dislodge Rego as the county party chief, such a victory could prove a pyrrhic one if the party donors and supporters Rego has been cultivating over the last three years are offended by such an unseemly internecine squabble.
At present, those in  San Bernardino County’s Republican camp, which was already polarized by the slugfest between incumbent Congressman Gary Miller and former State Senator Bob Dutton last year, are choosing sides, in some cases reluctantly.
There is a perception that Hagman’s effort is a subset of a larger strategy for the party involving former state senator and assemblyman Jim Brulte’s quest to capture the leadership of the state Republican Party. Brulte has so far stopped short of openly endorsing Hagman.
Brulte, in the wake of the 2012 November election, which stands as the most resounding electoral defeat the GOP has ever sustained in California, is seeking to succeed Tom Del Beccaro as California GOP chairman and take control of the party’s state political machinery in an effort to reestablish Republican relevance in the nation’s most populous state.
On November 8, 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.
While it is doubtful that Brulte can effectively reverse the statewide trend of growing and energized numbers of  Latino voters registering as Democrats and voting  overwhelmingly in support of candidates from their party, it was Brulte who in fact engineered the last effective Republican takeover of the California legislature when he succeeded, after a protracted power struggle with  former Democratic Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, in installing Curt Pringle as Speaker of the Assembly in 1996.
As a longtime Republican elected official chosen by his party colleagues to leadership positions in both State Senate and Assembly caucuses, Brulte  has a command of the methods and science of campaigning and in horse trading among politicians and business interests in building a well-funded political machine capable of targeting and reaching the requisite number of voters in those districts where Republicans either hold a registration advantage outright or are in a position to get out the Republican vote in sufficient numbers where the Democrats hold a less-than-entirely-overwhelming registration advantage. In office, Brulte demonstrated himself to be basically a conservative, but was not so ideologically rigid in his approach that he could not be pragmatic and recognize the need for compromise in a circumstance where Democrats held the majority of the positions in the legislature. On occasion he reached across to moderates when some political mileage was to be gained. A cunning strategist, Brulte was not unwilling to push the envelope and secure whatever advantage the leverage he and his party possessed at any given time with regard to specific or general issues.
Nearly a decade after he left the interior of the political cauldron, Brulte has his work cut out for him in jumping back into the partisan fray.  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  a handful of head-to-head contests between Republicans in some of 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 then-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.
The Miller vs. Dutton debacle took place in San Bernardino County, in which the 31st District is located. Ironically, Rego decried the squandering of Republican money in the Miller electoral effort against Dutton, as well as in other head-to-head contests between Republican standard bearers. Rego’s entreaties to his fellow Republicans were to no avail, however. Equally ironic is the very real prospect that in San Bernardino County, more Republican resources will be utilized in the effort to topple Rego from his perch so that Hagman, who owns a string of bail bond businesses, can oversee the San Bernardino County Central Committee, which is the controlling organ of the county Republican Party.
There have been suggestions, though nothing tangible to definitively establish, that Hagman’s move at the county level is being done in concert with Brulte’s move at the state level. Arguments in favor of bringing Hagman in to oversee the county party apparatus include his ability to network beyond the confines of San Bernardino County and reach into the pockets of donors throughout the state and conceivably beyond California to fund electioneering and informational campaigns aimed at promoting Republican candidates and conservative ideas and formulas. Hagman’s ability to author and sponsor legislation and interact with other current office holders provides him with a reach Rego does not possess. A phone call from Hagman is nearly always taken. Those calls that find someone not in are nearly always returned, usually sooner rather than later. Moreover, Hagman, like Brulte, possesses at this point a practical understanding of the political reality in Sacramento and a real world understanding of how business is taken care of and things are done.
At the same time, some consider it unwise to have a full-time state legislator committed to the running of local party operations. As the 2014 election date approaches, the time commitment will increase. Hagman’s future political ambition is unclear at this point. His control of the county party machinery could put other potential candidates for an office Hagman covets at a disadvantage. Others frown at the prospect that Hagman will be putting the arm on donors for money or political personages for endorsements while legislation is pending in Sacramento that might impact those donors or endorsers.
And Rego, who has steadily grown into the role of county party chairman, is in no hurry to leave the position. Under his leadership, the party has maintained its historical edge in San Bernardino County. While it is a reality that registered Democrats now outnumber registered Republicans in San Bernardino County 39.1 percent to 38.4 percent, the GOP countywide still outmuscles the Democrats at the polls and in local, state and federal offices.  Three of the five Congressman who represent San Bernardino County are Republicans. Five of the eight  members of the Assembly who  represent San Bernardino County are Republicans. Four of six state senators currently representing San Bernardino County are Republicans. County and municipal offices are officially considered non-partisan ones. Nevertheless, party affiliation plays a major role in the electability of candidates in nearly every city in San Bernardino County. In eighteen of the county’s 24 cities, Republicans outnumber Democrats on their respective city or town councils. Under Rego’s direction of the party, the Republicans in San Bernardino County have turned out at the polls in far greater numbers than Democrats.
After Brulte captures  the party chairman’s position when the California GOP meets in March, his first order of business will consist of convincing party donors, many of whom supported the Republican candidates who were the targets of Republican  attack campaigns last fall, that they should continue to stock the party’s coffers with money. Sacking Rego, whose reputation as a party loyalist and someone who inveighed against cannibalism within the Party of Lincoln is well established, could result in those donors refusing to open their checkbooks for the Republican Party altogether. Thus, in seeking to ease Rego out of the picture, Hagman, and by extension Brulte, will require a degree of tact and politesse the situation does not permit, leading to a perception of Rego’s removal as a counterproductive bloodletting aimed less at advancing the party than the political fortunes of a handful of party insiders.
Brulte told the Sentinel his campaign for the state party chairmanship is entirely separate from Hagman’s effort to assume the lead of the party in San Bernardino County.
“I am not playing a role in that,” Brulte said. “I am not a member of the county central committee. I would refer you to the Republicans who make up the membership of that committee. The chairmanship there is wholly a local issue.”
Brulte, who on January 14 in San Diego formally announced he will be seeking the state party chair, spoke with the Sentinel prior to that announcement. “I want to be the nuts and bolts Republican Party chairman,” he said. “We have three issues we must deal with. Our party is in debt hundreds of thousands of dollars. We have allowed our fundraising function to atrophy over the last few years as we have depended on members of the legislature or gubernatorial candidates to raise money. My number one priority will be building our statewide fundraising operation to erase that debt and provide funds to build the party.”
Brulte continued, “Concurrently, we have got to rebuild the grassroots base of our party, particularly in target areas of the state where we are on the defensive in trying to hold onto seats in the legislature where our candidates are under attack by the Democrats and in those areas where Republicans have an opportunity to pick up seats. Third, we have to go into every area of California, and I mean every part of the state, and recruit candidates and train candidates and to the extent possible provide them with technical support.”
Brulte said open primaries that will in some cases pit Republicans against Republicans are a reality the party will have to live with. “Voters have put so-called open primaries in place and I don’t think they will go away any time soon,” he said. He indicated he did not personally approve of the idea of dedicating party money to the campaigns of Republicans vying against other Republicans.
“I wasn’t a member of Republican Party’s board of directors when those decisions were made,” he said, referring to the expenditure of party money in Republican vs. Republican match-ups. “My view is that we should use Republican resources to elect Republicans and to defeat Democrats. As to the policy the California Republican Board of Directors will enact, I cannot tell you. The board might change. Of its 28 members, nine are up for election or reelection.”
Rego declined comment. Hagman did not return a call seeking his input.
Brulte is scheduled to speak at the San Bernardino Republican Central Committee’s organizational meeting at the Hilton Garden Inn, located at 11481 Mission Vista Drive in Rancho Cucamonga on January 31. There will be a social interaction period from 6 p.m. to 6:30, followed by Brulte’s speech at 6:30. The meeting, at which the organization of the county party’s leadership will be discussed, will last from 7 p.m. until 9 p.m.

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