Jim Brulte

Jim Brulte

By Peter Schrag
Special to The Bee
Published: Friday, Dec. 27, 2013 – 12:00 am
Last Modified: Friday, Dec. 27, 2013 – 5:26 am

As the 2013 season for making lists comes to an end – the 10 best, the 10 greatest, the 10 worst – add yet another 11th-hour contender: The smartest thing the Republicans did in 2013 was choosing Jim Brulte to chair the California GOP.

Now, I concede this is not a tough field. The other leading GOP contenders for smartest are for the most part the stupid things the party stopped doing in Washington. They promised not to shut down the government again. Some stopped shouting no-never to any suggestion of immigration reform. Some recognize women as citizens. Some are even supporting gay rights. And many still don’t get it.

Still, the choice of Brulte in California is significant, not just for the state party or even for the chance to restore some semblance of an engaged, responsible opposition in Sacramento.

Could California, a state not quite as blue as it’s sometimes made out to be, help lead the nation back toward functional two-party governance, as it led in the tax revolt in 1978 and in immigrant bashing with Proposition 187 20 years ago?

Those who knew him when he was the state Senate minority leader and, before that, a member of the California Assembly, will recall him as a politician who was as pragmatic and outgoing as he was conservative.

Brulte realized long ago that his party was huddling in a tent that was too small for the diversity of California. When he was governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger would later tell his fellow Republicans that they weren’t filling the seats.

And at last count, the numbers were famously awful: Early in 2005, more than 34 percent of California voters called themselves Republican; at the beginning of this year, the number was below 29 percent. And as Brulte likes to say, even 100 percent of 29 percent doesn’t get you to 51 percent. The Democrats, meanwhile, held their numbers at a steady 43 to 44 percent.

Brulte knows it’s a steep climb. It took years for the party to get to this point; it could take years to come back.

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