San Francisco Chronicle Editorial: California Republicans’ wrong turn

October 23, 2017
By: The Editorial Board

Seven Republicans in California’s congressional delegation, representing districts Hillary Clinton carried last fall, will enter next year’s midterm elections with political targets on their backs.

Whether Republicans will even compete in the general election for governor and U.S. Senate — forget about being competitive in those races — is open to speculation. In the Legislature, meanwhile, Republicans constitute not just a minority but a super-minority, giving Democrats theoretically unchecked power.

Judging by recent events, too many Republicans are keen to keep it that way.

In one of the nation’s most polyglot states, and one in which the most effective Republicans have been moderates, those attending the party’s fall convention in Orange County last weekend cheered former White House strategist Steve Bannon, the embodiment of President Trump’s xenophobic id, and booed mainstream stalwarts such as former President George W. Bush and Sen. John McCain. Having ousted the party’s Assembly leader for daring to vote for climate change legislation, the party is poised to go into next year’s elections with a message dominated not by an agenda for the years to come but by a promise to undo what Democrats did the year before. The centerpiece of this backward-looking strategy is a proposed repeal of the gas tax increase the Legislature passed this year to shore up the state’s battered roads and mass transit systems.

The short-term political appeal is obvious: No one likes paying taxes or buying gas, so the general distaste for doing both simultaneously is an article of faith.

As a policy position or governing strategy, however, the repeal attempt is absurd. The gas tax increase, the first in more than two decades, was overdue and likely inadequate in a state beset by extreme commutes and congestion. Criticizing the scope or structure of the tax, or proposing alternative funding, would be appropriate. Simplistic opposition is a dead end — a West Coast echo of the Trump administration’s increasingly unpopular and unsuccessful efforts to unravel his predecessor’s achievements without a plan for what follows.

It’s no wonder that business groups such as the Bay Area Council and Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, not long ago a core Republican constituency, joined an open letter urging the party not “to create new political adversaries” or “enter into a battle that is likely only to be … self-defeating.” Like Democrats at the national level, political parties that find themselves in the wilderness are bound to reassess. But to the detriment of a state that needs viable alternatives, California Republicans are threatening to learn exactly the wrong lessons and end up even more hopelessly lost.