Grand Old Party goes old school

With the polish of a politician and the precision of a professor, Tom McClintock brought Butte County Republicans back to their party’s most shining moment.

He evoked the name of Ronald Reagan—foreshadowing the next night’s televised debate, when the Gipper got name-dropped early and often by GOP presidential hopefuls. In McClintock’s speech, Reagan was the ancillary hero; the legacy he extolled belongs to Abraham Lincoln.

The Republicans are the party of freedom, he told a group of county dignitaries last Wednesday (May 2) at the Keefer Road home of local GOP Chairman John Byrne. “We don’t need to redefine our principles,” McClintock declared. “We need to return to them.”

By “we” he meant California Republicans, and one in particular. He decried the “post-partisanship” leftward swing of Governor Schwarzenegger, who beat the state senator in the recall election for Gray Davis’ seat. He decried bureaucracy and waste—with California’s public sector growing twice as fast as the population, McClintock asserted, the state’s deficit and rate of increased spending both eclipse records under Davis.

“Those are decidedly not Republican policies. We stand for restoring freedom to every Californian hoping to better themselves.”

Freedom … ergo, Lincoln … and McClintock’s history lesson.

In 1848, the Whigs—precursors to the Republicans—nominated Zachary Taylor for president, bypassing party leader Henry Clay for a war hero (and slave owner). “They won on Zachary Taylor’s name recognition but they lost the glue that held them together,” McClintock said, and the Whigs disintegrated. The breakaway Republican Party rose to ascendancy with ex-Whig Lincoln.

“The moral of the story: If you don’t stand for something, don’t be surprised if nobody votes for you,” he summed up. “Great parties are defined by their principles.”

McClintock’s lecture found eager ears. State Senator Sam Aanestad, Assemblymen Rick Keene and Doug LaMalfa, Chico City Councilman Larry Wahl, county Clerk-Recorder Candace Grubbs and Supervisors Curt Josiassen and Bill Connelly were among the five-dozen Republicans (plus a handful of kids and two journalists) who paid $50 each to fill the kitchen/living room when rain turned the Spring Social into an indoor affair.

Aanestad picked up the Lincoln torch, reciting his “Lincoln Day speech.” The penny—"the good luck charm we all carry"—features the president’s profile with Liberty above his head. Lincoln stood on principle amid public, published calls for his assassination. Fifty years later, he became the first person commemorated on a coin.

LaMalfa, hoping to succeed Aanestad after he’s term-limited out next year, reinforced the old-school message. “We’re at a crossroads as a party,” he said. “We need to stay true to the Republican cause and demand that of our candidates at every level.”

Rep. Wally Herger was represented by district director Fran Peace, who stated that the 11-term congressman “has never had more passion, more commitment to his job than he does today.” Embattled Rep. John Doolittle also had a staffer present, Jim Stamer, who simply said that his boss “sends his appreciation for your support. Thanks again, everyone.”

Doolittle’s district includes part of Butte County—and overlaps part of Keene’s. Asked earlier in the evening if he planned to make a run for Congress should Doolittle step down, Keene light-heartedly declined to say. In campaign mode was Sam Wakim, running for LaMalfa’s seat next year.

Meteorologist Anthony Watts, a former Chico school board member, got particular recognition with what local GOP Vice Chairman Steve Thompson called the 2007 Truth Award. “Republicans do stand for truth and what we think is right,” Thompson said—in this case, how Watts “stands up against the issue that’s dogma of the left, global warming. They think that debate is over.”

A final plea of “don’t tax ourselves and submit to communism” capped the call for returning to values.

Butte County clearly is friendly territory for McClintock, an unapologetic conservative who ran for lieutenant governor last year and spearheads Citizens for the California Republic. “As a Californian, I am very grateful to you,” he told the local Republicans who helped put like-minded legislators in the Legislature.

He speaks around the state, he said, and “there’s a certain amount of Republican angst over the direction some of our party leaders have taken…. California, when you scratch the surface, still is Reagan country.”

And, presumably, Lincoln country.

“[Throughout history] there’s always a party of freedom; they desire to be left alone,” McClintock said. “A smaller group thinks they are better at running people’s lives than their own.”

Democrats may find irony in this statement, considering restrictive stances conservatives tend to take on social issues. McClintock’s key issues are economic, and looming “financial crisis” shapes the political strategy he shared that evening.

“In normal times, people don’t pay a lot of attention. When crisis approaches, that’s when you see the strength of democracy emerge.

“When that happens,” he concluded, “you’ll see democracy re-engage, and they’ll side with us.”