Republicans aiming to be relevant in California state politics today are like strangers in a strange land fraught with peril. It’s a very blue state where the Democrats hold a super majority in the Legislature; not a single Republican holds a statewide office; Governor Jerry Brown, who has been somewhat friendly to our industry, will almost certainly be reelected next year barring something completely unexpected; and political scientists point to demographic trends that paint a very dim future for Republicans in the state.
Meanwhile, Republican leaders and activists are fighting for the soul of their party, with one side insisting that only ideological purists can protect the integrity of what it means to be a Republican, while the other side argues that Republicans must allow greater diversity of opinion within their own ranks on issues such as immigration reform, taxes and gay marriage.
What is a business organization like ours to do in a political world like this? How do we decide which party, and which individual legislators and statewide officeholders, to support? On most policy issues that state lawmakers can impact, we find Republicans more aligned with our views, but Republicans have no power in Sacramento to pass or defeat legislation. This we must work diligently to change. Can we afford to ignore or even oppose Democrats who often pass legislation that we find objectionable? Farmers curse the weather, but they also adapt to it. As an industry organization that advocates for our members’ interests, we can curse the political climate but we must adapt to it. Our businesses depend upon it.
Our adaptation is in Democrat vs. Democrat elections, to support the moderate pro-business Democrats. Our political strategy is to help reshape the character of the Democratic caucuses in both houses of the Legislature to create a safe zone for moderate, pro-business members. Is this difficult? Sure. Is it impossible? No. We have already experienced success with our independent expenditure committee — Family Farmers Working for a Better California. Last year we unseated two incumbent Democrats in the Assembly who went out of their way to attack our industry. Every member of the Legislature now has good reason to put facts and good policy ahead of special interest political agendas when considering legislation affecting our industry. We intend to come back next year with an even more vigorous campaign effort so that no one in Sacramento makes the mistake of thinking we aren't in this to stay, or that we are one-year wonders.
When evaluating which candidates to elect, we should search those that represent others, not just themselves. It is not about his or her own principles and opinions alone, but about leading, negotiating and compromising with others to come to agreements we can live with and support; accords that advance us and solve problems. Principles can co-exist with politics, and are not compromised by statesmanship. This is a fundamental element of the representative democracy our founders created, yet it seems to be viewed with disdain by many of our representatives on both sides of the aisle. California and the nation need statesmen, whether they are Republicans, Democrats or Independents. And while we must play the hand we have been dealt and all the keener when that hand is not a very good one, let’s not make the game an exercise in futility and fold our cards after every election. If the deck is stacked against us, let’s reshuffle it.
Join Western Growers
Western Growers members care deeply for the food they grow, the land they sustain, the people they employ, and the community in which they live.