OC GOP's Apocalypse Now

The party's over for Republicans in Orange County and California

"The bigotry and inappropriate names is behavior I don't support," said Baugh, who is facing re-election to his chairmanship without opposition this month. "Over the years, I've admonished people to not engage in that. It's difficult to make progress if people don't think we like them. . . . A race to the right is frankly pointless for future victories and electoral success."

But, he admits, even he has gotten in trouble.

"I was speaking at Los Amigos [after the election], and I used the term 'undocumented workers,' and people got upset with me," he said. "I honestly didn't know that was an offensive term."

Quirk-Silva made history for Democrats
Kenneth M. Ruggiano
Quirk-Silva made history for Democrats
Last dance? GOP events in the 1980s and ’90s were packed; not so much anymore, as a 2012 election night photo proves
Kevin Liu
Last dance? GOP events in the 1980s and ’90s were packed; not so much anymore, as a 2012 election night photo proves

One attendee told Baugh, "You think we're stupid." Another told him the Republican Party was determined to deport Latinos. Such sentiment has driven him to make it a priority to "correct assumptions" and "misinformation" by launching "a conversation" with Latino voters. To deal with illegal immigration, he is personally opposed to deportation or amnesty.

"Neither of those are the solution," he said. "We have to have border enforcement, but also corporate penalties and a guest-worker program that gives people a clear path to citizenship. Look, the Democrats aren't going to do anything to fix the system. We, as Republicans, have an opportunity to do something because it's the right thing to do."

Mocking himself (and, perhaps, Rohrabacher, too), Baugh added, "I really get that the future of our party is not balding, fat, middle-aged white guys."

His strategy hinges on recruiting minority candidates, and Baugh conceded that "some districts are going to be hard to win—maybe we won't ever be able to defeat Loretta Sanchez," but he claims he's already excited about post-election developments.

"I've got a long list of Latino activists and candidates whom I'm working with," he said. "They are eager to help me change the face of the party and defend it. You will see in the next two years a tremendous effort to recruit Latinos to run and to have the Republican Party represented in Latino community by Latinos. That will give us credibility. I want to inspire a generation of young Latinos who can articulate our vision: less regulation, less red tape and less taxes. It's not going to happen overnight, but we're making progress."

It might help his cause if he doesn't invite ex-Governor Pete Wilson as a speaker at party functions, as he did on Nov. 6. A frail, shaking Wilson—one year short of 80—grabbed the podium and mumbled about returning the party to its glorious past by continuing to do what it's doing but just trying harder. For many Latinos, that past is tainted with racism. In 1988, the county GOP helped Curt Pringle narrowly win a state assembly race by illegally hiring poll guards to intimidate Latinos from voting in Santa Ana. In 1994, Wilson used anti-immigrant Proposition 187 as an election wedge strategy for Republican candidates. And with every election cycle that passes, another candidate or activist writes or says something anti-Latino that makes national headlines and drives people such as Baugh nuts.

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Quirk-Silva appreciates she's going to be closely watched, but she isn't concerned. She's making substantially more ($95,000, plus $142 per diem for days the legislature is in session) than she did as a fourth-grade teacher. Because she plans to spend significant time at home in the district, where she lives with her husband, Jesus, a middle-school math teacher, she is renting a small studio apartment across the street from the capitol. Already connected with residents, she says she doesn't need an outreach plan.

"Most of the people in the district have the same concerns I do," she said. "They work hard, they feed their families, and if they can get a chance, they'd like to take a little vacation. I want to get things done in Sacramento for them."

She says she firmly believes in "fairness" in government policies and a more activist state bureaucracy than Norby, but don't expect her to espouse fiery class-warfare rhetoric. "I don't like fear-driven dialogue," said Quirk-Silva. "I don't like the 'us versus them' mentality. I think that's what Norby played on in the campaign, especially in his mailers. He told people that if the DREAM Act kids win, you lose. He showed images of people crossing the border. That's very polarizing. People get tired of being beaten up on."

The big question around the state is: Will Quirk-Silva help Democrats raise taxes and fees?

"I didn't run to be the [member who gave Democrats the supermajority]," she said. "I just happened to be [that member]. My goal isn't to figure out how to raise taxes and fees."

But will she back a tax hike? "It really depends on what it is," she replied.

Baugh has a warning. "If she votes for tax increases, I wouldn't be surprised if there's a recall campaign against her before the next election," he said. "With their one-vote cushion, maybe Democrats will let her off the hook. We'll see."

Quirk-Silva believes Baugh's thoughts would best be used "to help the whole delegation—Republicans and Democrats"—make life better for Orange County residents.

"Let's get things done together," she said. "I'm not opposed to reaching across the aisle. I had to do that on the Fullerton City Council. The political season can come later."

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