Hard to figure how things could get much worse for the GOP these days. Barack Obama swept the state vote last November at near record levels, both houses of the State Legislature are overwhelmingly Democrats, and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (pictured here as a much younger man getting his groove on), is openly considering changing his voter registration to "Decline to State."
(That "Decline to State" thing seems to be a trend that is catching on, especially among Democrats here in Sierra Madre.)
Iconoclastic political writer Joe Mathews, who opines upon such things over at the more often than not excellent California state politics site Fox & Hounds, lays the GOP dilemma out this way:
"Even a guy like me, living on the west side of Los Angeles in the shadow of a government-run art museum currently running an exhibit by contemporary Germans (LACMA), has gotten the news that California conservatives are sticking to their principles in these dark times and opposing things that would bring our society to ruin. Those evils are: European socialism. Governor Schwarzenegger. President Obama. Bailouts. Those gay people who are conservative enough to want to marry. And anyone who negotiates with Democrats."
Now this kind of stuff might appeal to the hardcore amongst conservative Republicans, but for the majority of the voting populace in this deeply blue state that brand of politics is about as alien to California as whatever it is they're doing in Mississippi these days. In other words, by so myopically serving as an example of everything narrow-minded and stubborn, they're making the Democrats look good. Which is unfortunate, because they are in many ways just as lousy.
And as long as the Republicans keep acting, as Mathews puts it, "cult-like," they will remain little more than a powerless if noisy political identity group. A permanent minority made up of legislators largely from those parts of the state where coyotes outnumber people.
But look, and as anyone who followed the events in the successful fight to stop destructive redevelopment in Sierra Madre can tell you, it wasn't local Republicans that worked so hard to demolish our downtown and replace its old town charm with grotesque parti-colored 5 story condos and knickknack shops. Most of which, had they been built, would now stand as empty and bankrupt as those built in the towns surrounding this cantankerous bastion of citizen involvement. The majority of the people who loudly supported redevelopment were Democrats. Including LA County organization Democrats. And believe me, it wasn't just the local ones that got involved.
It is not much of a secret that in the State of California the Democratic Party is in so deep with the redevelopment and real estate lobbies and subsidiary organizations (SCAG, as an example), that it needs a straw to breath. And here in LA County you'd require a microscope to tell them apart. When 10's of thousands of dollars were pumped into this town in the vain hopes of defeating Measure V, it wasn't the Republican Party or those currently allied with it that ponied up the cash to fund the massive (and laughably inept) "No on V" mailing campaign.
Now to suggest that such organizations as the BIA and California Association of Realtors are permanently wedded to the Democratic Party would be absurd, and that is not what I am suggesting here. These are pragmatic business people, and they give their support to the party with the power to deliver what they want. But that the Democratic Party should so willingly tailor its politics in exchange for a steady flow of redevelopment cash into their campaign coffers is not without effect. And the result is enormous political pressure put on LA County cities to give up control over local planning and succumb to the desires of those who wish to build the kind of garbage development you see so much of in neighboring communities.
One of the truly unique things about the politics of Sierra Madre is that the major parties don't really count. It's like you pass through a prism when you cross Michillinda, and all the trite and hackneyed cliches that serve as principles for the major political organizations are fragmented and flutter away. Here conservatives and liberals, moderates and anarchists, and those who don't give a damn for politics as usual, work together without a murmur of dissent. The overall goal, preserving a way of life that is under assault in so many ways, far outstrips such inauthentic considerations.
But is this really unique to Sierra Madre? Or is it just that this is a town that, thanks to the sacrifices of a few good people, found its voice, functioned as a working democracy, and thereby fulfilled its civic responsibilities? And isn't it possible that there are millions of people across this state who are angry about what has been done to their towns and cities, but never found a way to give voice to that anger?
So where does the seemingly lost Republican Party fit in? Certainly here's a political organization that could use some message maintenance. What if the GOP was to step forward and clearly identify redevelopment for what it really is, a Democratic Party vice? And that should it be returned to power it would end once and for all a practice that results in the seizure of peoples' homes in order to favor such things as strip malls and car lots? Or turning beautiful California towns into condo-glut Generica? That preserving traditional city and town life as it is practiced here is not not some sort of impediment to so-called progress, but a California way of doing things that needs to be the priority no matter what the consideration?
I'm not holding out too much hope here, though.