Ken Masugi is director of the Center for Local Government at the Claremont Institute. He is co-author of the recent book Democracy in California: Politics and Government in the Golden State.
NRO: How devastating is the Simon loss for California?
Masugi: The closeness of the race, despite the horrors of the campaign and the breadth of the statewide losses, indicates that conservative Republicans can succeed statewide. Note the good showing of my former Claremont Institute colleague Tom McClintock, who is narrowly losing the race for state controller, as of 8 A.M. local time today. The huge financial advantage of the Democratic candidates has to be foremost in the minds of those doing postmortems.
NRO: What's wrong with the GOP in California?
Masugi: The Republicans continue to feel the effects of progressivism and weak parties worse than the Democrats. Obviously, the party needs to be "professionalized." Unfortunately, those in charge of the professionalization don't hold fundamental American political principles in their hearts and can't see how they can be winning issues. Californians are suspicious of government, as Mark Baldassare's new book, A California State of Mind, bears out and as the tax revolt and various initiatives have long indicated. The successful anti-affirmative action, anti-illegal-immigrant aid, and anti-bilingual-education initiatives of recent years all indicate that important conservative issues, ones raising what it means be an American, have political force. Republicans need to stop imitating Democrats on such contentious issues. For example, both Simon and Davis campaigned in Mexico. I think a principled conservative would go to the border and welcome legal immigrants into their new California family, while affirming the significance of borders.
The GOP has long relied on conservative voters in Orange County, San Diego, and the Central Valley, and they should still be the core of a conservative statewide majority. Changing demographics require different tactics, but limited government, pro-family themes should be constant.
The Republicans should also rethink their shunning of the most successful Republican politician in recent years, former governor and senator Pete Wilson. They have bought into the liberal assault on him, and don't take lessons from how he won. That doesn't mean they need to adopt everything he advocated.
I think California conservatives might try being constitutionalists. Note the preamble to the California constitution:
We, the people of the State of California, grateful to Almighty God for our freedom, in order to secure and perpetuate its blessings, do establish this Constitution.
Then, Article I:
All people are by nature free and independent and have inalienable rights. Among these are enjoying and defending life and liberty, acquiring, possessing, and protecting property, and pursuing and obtaining safety, happiness, and privacy.
Unfortunately, the California supreme court interprets "privacy" to cover abortion rights. But while not conceding the court's correctness, there is much for conservatives to feast on in the California constitution
NRO: What should be on the top of recrimination considerations for the Republicans in your state and nationally, with California in mind?
Masugi: Republicans might want to chase some political consultants into Mexico. Had Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan run a better primary campaign, he might have been a better general-election candidate. But Simon had his chances.
NRO: Is there any good news coming our of your state this election?
Masugi: If he doesn't win his controller race, Tom McClintock will remain in the state senate. Otherwise, the races for offices were pretty much set by reapportionment deals. Los Angeles secession will not go away, despite L.A.'s vote against it. I hope we continue to hear from Bill Simon on state issues. After all, he was derided by Davis as a "think-tank conservative" — which means he's our, conservative guy. He'll be back.
NRO: Speaking of which: You betting on an Arnold run?
Masugi: Not the Terminator, whose proposition for after-school programs is winning, but let the next gubernatorial candidate listen to Arnold, Republican strategist Arnold Steinberg.
NRO: By the way, you have a new book out: who is your target audience?
Masugi: Democracy in California, co-authored with professor Brian Janiskee, imitates Alexis de Tocqueville's classic, Democracy in America in its themes of growing threats to freedom and how they can be overcome, in California. We emphasize the continuing role of progressivism in producing the sometimes-weird politics out here.