IFAS | Freedom Writer | July/August 1992 | california.html

Report from California

By Marcy Rein

Success in the June primary could catapult conservative Christians into leadership of the Republican caucus of the California assembly. "It'll be 'Katie bar the door' if that happens," said the Rev. Jerry Sloan of Project Tocsin, which monitors the Religious Right in California.

"Pro-family" Christians captured 14 of 20 open Republican seats in the primary. If at least nine win in November, and the conservative incumbents return, as expected, they will outnumber the moderate Republicans.

Reapportionment has given Republicans a good shot at control of the Assembly, and California's two-term law will retire all current incumbents by 1996. Selection of a conservative Christian speaker of the assembly that year "is not far-fetched speculation," said Sloan.

The Christian Right's poll power also showed this June in the national races. Arch-conservative Bruce Herschensohn edged moderate GOP hero Rep. Tom Campbell for one U.S. Senate nomination. Gov. Pete Wilson's appointee, Sen. John Seymour, managed only an anemic victory against Rep. William Dannemeyer and two other conservative rivals for the second Senate spot. Republican advocates of "traditional values" took eleven congressional nominations.

California conservatives won with a refinement of the "San Diego strategy" that has become a model for the rest of the country combine a carefully crafted message with an energetic church-based mobilization in a low-turnout election.

Up and down the state, Christian candidates flew "tax fighter" colors, folding their social agenda into an anti-big government/deficit spending message. With one in ten Californians unemployed, a state budget crisis looming, and no economic upturn in sight, the message hit home. "The tax issue was the centerpiece for all successful challengers," said Rob Stutzman of the Capitol Resource Institute, a right-wing policy institute associated with Dr. James Dobson's Focus on the Family ministry.

As in previous successes, right-wing forces mobilized their church base. The Christian Coalition made 55,000 phone calls in eleven targeted districts on election eve. Pro-life Council slate cards were distributed in selected church parking lots.

Observers from all quarters also credited the Right's volunteer organization. Effective grass roots work won nominations for state Eagle Forum president, JoEllen Allen, and for Steve Baldwin, mastermind of the San Diego strategy, and brought Christian activist and radio commentator, Barbara Alby, within a hair of unseating moderate incumbent B.T. Collins.

Apathy boosted the impact of the committed voter. Less than half of all registered Republicans turned out for the primary races that nominated the Christian Right's Assembly candidates those candidates won with an average of 18 percent of the Republican vote.

This spring's conservative hopefuls benefited from the largesse of a small group of committed Christians. Project Tocsin documented $622,000 in early donations to the 20 candidates for open Republican seats close to half the total funds received by those candidates.

The financing was coordinated by the Capital Commonwealth Group, a loose association of individuals and political action committees. Home Savings and Loan heir, Howard Fieldstead Ahmanson Jr., and Robert Hurtt of Container Supply Company and the Capitol Resource Institute head the group. Associated PACs include Family PAC of Sacramento, the California Gun Owners Campaign Committee, and the newly formed Allied Business PAC.

Final pre-election reports are not due until July 31, but, "No matter how you spin it," said Project Tocsin's Sloan, "you have two men buying fourteen candidates." California law sets no campaign contribution limits.

Only in Republican Central Committee races did moderates and conservatives break even. The Christian right won majorities on two county committees, lost two others, and still controls just over half the county GOPs in the state, according to Nan Bostick, northern California coordinator of Republicans for Choice.

"We have nothing to be apologetic about," said Bostick. "It took people a long time to wake up and smell the coffee. Once they do, we see amazing turnarounds," she said.

Given the bitter atmosphere of intra-party struggle, the moderates' educational efforts have sometimes brought trouble. In San Diego, the Republicans for Choice PAC is being sued by the Christian-dominated Republican County Central Committee for allegedly misappropriating the Party's elephant mascot. And a group of Santa Clara Republicans may face a lawsuit from Jay Grimstead, theocratic theorist head of the California Activist's Network and unsuccessful Central Committee candidate.

The Santa Clara moderates mailed a letter to selected party members detailing Grimstead's views, including some of his associates' advocacy of the death penalty for homosexuals and abortionists.

Grimstead contends that the letter was a libelous misrepresentation and could put him in danger, "if any of the thousands of homosexuals who live just a few miles away in San Francisco read that and get their blood boiling."

The Freedom Writer's Skipp Porteous, who, at the invitation of the California Republican League, came to California just before the primary, cited a January 4, 1991 radio interview with Gary DeMar, a leading Grimstead associate, as taped evidence of the Reconstructionists' support of "Biblical penalties" for "moral offenses."

Because California is a testing ground for political strategy, voters in other states should be aware of that state's political climate. Your state may very well be next.

© 1998 Institute for First Amendment Studies, Inc.