Lake Elsinore Councilwoman Melissa Melendez and Assemblyman Brian Nestande, R-Palm Desert, answer questions Thursday during the California Speaks Out event organized by the state Republican Party in Riverside. (Gabriel Luis Acosta/Staff Photographer)

By James Rufus Koren Staff Writer
Created: 04/21/2011 09:26:18 PM PDT

RIVERSIDE – Republicans brought their traveling budget show to the Inland Empire on Thursday evening, with state Republican leaders and elected officials talking about their ideas for restoring prosperity to California.

For more than an hour, state Republican Party Chairman Tom Del Beccaro, Assemblyman Brian Nestande, R-Palm Desert, and Lake Elsinore Councilwoman Melissa Melendez took questions from an audience of about 200, not all of them Republicans.

“We’re getting out of Sacramento and talking to people,” Del Beccaro said. “We’re going to bring this state closer together.”

Thursday’s event was one of 20 forums the California Republican Party has planned for the next several months. Called the California Speaks Out tour, state party spokesman Mark Strandriff said the goal is to reach out to Californians – not just in traditionally Republican areas like Riverside, but in traditionally Democratic areas like Los Angeles, San Francisco and Berkeley.

Gov. Jerry Brown and Democratic leaders made their own appearances in the area this month – Brown earlier this month and legislative leaders early this week – but Thursday’s Republican presentation was decidedly different.

While Democrats focused their recent presentations on the coming year’s budget and on the specific cuts they want to avoid by extending tax rates, Thursday’s forum was less

budget-focused. Del Beccaro and Nestande took questions on budget issues, as well as on Republican Party strategy and on federal political issues.

If there was a central premise, it was that California’s long-term budget solution is to lower taxes, relax business regulation and grow the economy overall.

“It’s ridiculous to suggest this is just about the budget,” Del Beccaro said. “It’s about the loss of revenue because of bad policies. For 10 years, I’ve been told we needed to focus on the short term (budget problem), and for 10 years our economic base has been corroding.”

Before taking questions, Del Beccaro quoted former President John F. Kennedy and economist John Maynard Keynes in arguing that lowering taxes will lead to more tax revenue – and more spending on education and other popular programs – in the long run.

“The question is, what’s the best way to raise revenues?” Del Beccaro said. “I come to a different conclusion than Jerry Brown does.”

“I don’t think we should pre-select what’s on people’s minds,” Del Beccaro said afterward.

A few of the more heated moments came when a woman asked Nestande why he didn’t support eliminating redevelopment agencies. Event organizers asked one audience member to leave the event after she continued to shout about how redevelopment agencies take away property owners’ rights.

When the conversation did turn to budget issues, answers trended toward broad statements about how state regulation has hobbled California’s business climate and how the state government could – but hasn’t – rooted out fraud, waste and abuse.

Before the 7 p.m. event started inside the hotel, a few hundred protesters, many organized by the group California Partnership, rallied outside, chanting “no more cuts” and calling for what they call a fair budget – one that avoids deep cuts to education and social-service programs and extends a set of 2009 tax increases.

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