Yesterday I had the opportunity to hear Ron Nehring speak. Ron is a Republican running for California’s Lieutenant Governorship, against incumbent Gavin Newsom. I’ve bemoaned the fact that the Open Primary means that, for the most part, California Republicans will never even get on the ballot for November elections, something profoundly undemocratic.
Nehring, however, is polling well, and appears to have a real shot at being on the ballot in the November election. I can understand his unusual success in what has become a one-party state. Nehring is a great speaker. His talk was well-organized, interesting, personal, and it hit all the high points that are going to appeal to genuine conservatives who think that California is being strangled under the weight of big government.
The following, based upon my hastily scribbled notes (meaning that all factual errors are mine), is a summary of Nehring’s excellent campaign speech:
Both of Nehring’s parents were born into Nazi Germany, with their childhoods spent in the rubble of the post-war era. After his father finished the 10th grade, he wanted to leave Germany, so he joined the German Merchant Marines as an assistant cook, eventually graduating to working in the engine room. He traveled the world for seven years, noting in his log book every placed he visited. Nehring carries that log book in his pocket as a reminder of the places his father saw before settling on America as his permanent home.
Nehring Sr. eventually returned to Germany, where he married. The newlyweds sought a better, freer life than Germany had to offer. Looking back on his travels, Nehring Sr. decided that America was the place. They found a sponsor, traveled to America, got employment, learned the language and, in 1967, became citizens.
Nehring Sr. immediately joined the Republican party. He told Ron that he did so because he listened carefully to speeches from both Democrat and Republican candidates. The Democrats voiced ideas that described the post-war European world he’d wanted to leave behind. The Republicans voiced the ideas that drew him to America in the first place.
Ron’s father never became rich. He always held blue-collar engineering jobs. Those blue collars, though, came off when he voted (and he never missed an election). When he went to the polling place, he did two things: he took his son with him to see democracy in action and he wore a tie. To Ron, that tie symbolized the sanctity of the voting booth. For that reason, says Ron, he strongly supports Voter ID laws, which also respect that sanctity.
Shifting from the personal to the political, Nehring said that Republican ideas have produced prosperity wherever they have been used. Democrat ideas, however, when untempered by two-party Republican constraint, have led to economic failure. Venezuela, which went from a prosperous, capitalist country to a socialist economic basket case within a decade is a perfect example. If you’d like to see side-by-side comparisons, just look at the two Koreas, or the two Germanies before the Berlin Wall fell. And take California, which is under total one party rule at the state level. Not coincidentally, it also has the highest poverty rate in America.
Nehring says that prosperity comes from reliable, protected property rights; low taxes; and fair laws. Republican ideas, he believes, are therefore the best ideas. Unfortunately, he says, our ideas cannot argue for themselves. They need champions . . . and he will be one of those champions.
Nehring has no patience with those who say that Republicans are wasting their money campaigning in California. He will not accept preemptive surrendering adding, “This is not France” (a line that got a hearty laugh). In Texas, said Nehring, the DemProgs never give up. (Bookworm: Witness their Wendy Davis crusade and their effort to elevate San Antonio mayor Julian Castro to national prominence.) Why then should we give up on California?
More than that, now is a good time for Republican candidates to strike. One-party governance has failed in California. Businesses are fleeing, poverty is rising, and candidates are becoming mired in the type of corruption that comes from hubris (e.g., Leland Yee). Republicans should therefore try in every election, for every office, to break the monopoly.
The current Lieutenant Governor, Gavin Newsom, has long let it be known that he doesn’t think much of the position, which is mostly ceremonial, except for one very important power: appointing representatives to California’s regulatory commissions and executive agencies. Newsom has made it clear that he views the office merely as a springboard to the California governor’s office.
To Nehring, though, the office a platform from which a committed conservative can start making changes to California’s Democrat monopoly, even if it just means educating the public and other politicians about conservative principles. He wants the office to be an incubator for conservative ideas, with himself as the advocate for those ideas. More than that, with the power of bureaucratic appointment, he can bring about some real change in the way in which the California bureaucracy is carried out.
Nehring set out his four key issues:
1. Tax Reform. California has one of the highest tax rates in the nation and the highest poverty level. While Nehring obviously knows that correlation isn’t causation, he did point out that, if high taxes really were the answer to ending poverty, California shouldn’t rank highest in both categories. If Nehring had his way, he would keep only Prop 13 and junk the rest of the California tax code entirely. He would then write a tax code that encourages, rather than targets, wealth creators.
2. End the trial lawyers’ power. Nehring pointed to a couple of real life examples to justify his belief that opportunities for frivolous lawsuits need to be reined in. Several years ago, plaintiffs’ attorneys paid to put Prop. 65 on the ballot, and then paid for the advertisements that got voters to pass it. If you’re in California, you’ve noticed that, if you walk into most places of business, there’s this sign, or something similar, on the wall:
Of course, in today’s world, the way lawyers interpret this sign means that everything can cancer or birth defects, including that couch you’re sitting on, which is required by law to be treated by flame retardants. Savvy business owners pop those signs on the wall in the same way superstitious people wear garlic to ward off vampires. Non-savvy businesses, though, like a little Bed & Breakfast, which owns a flame-retardant-sprayed couch or has a family member who smokes outside, but who comes back in with the smell of smoke on his clothes, do not put up those signs.
The non-savvy people are assuming that they won’t get arrested for not having a sign in their business, so what’s the problem? What they don’t know is that the law has a private attorney general clause, which means that anyone can file a punitive suit against the business. Moreover, the winning lawyer gets attorney’s fees from the losing business.
Lawyers hire people to look for these non-savvy businesses. When they find them, the lawyers say, “You can force me to take this to court, where you will lose, and the law will force you to pay me at least $50,000. Or you can just give me $10,000 now.” That $10,000 shakedown isn’t the end of the world if you’re a big business. It’s a disaster if you’re a Mom & Pop B&B.
The other example of lawsuits run amok comes from the town of Chula Vista, near San Diego. It’s a very poor, predominantly Hispanic community. Gaylord, which is a huge hotel chain, wanted to build a West Coast presence there. The community was delighted, because that meant jobs during and after construction. Everyone was happy until. . . . One day, the AFL-CIO showed up and basically said, “Nice little construction proposal you got here. It would be a shame if something happened to it.”
The AFL-CIO told Gaylord that, unless the company used union labor in construction and staffing — which would be hugely more expensive than hiring local businesses and individuals — the union would entangle Gaylord in environmental litigation that would last years. In other words, greenmail. Gaylord didn’t give in. Instead, it packed up its plans and moved them to California. Chula Vista continued to be poor and its Hispanic population under-employed.
3. School choice. Nehring told a story I remember well. In 2012, in Mira Monte, near Los Angeles, a teacher confessed to and was imprisoned for 23 counts of pedophilia involving his students. He went to jail, but he didn’t go alone. Thanks to the union, he took with him $20,000 in back pay, several thousand more dollars with which to pay his attorneys fees, and taxpayer-funded health care for life. When a Democrat assembly member tried to get a bill passed that it would make it easier to strip benefits from convicted pedophiles in California’s schools, he was roundly and soundly voted down. Stories such as this, say Nehring, mean that the teachers unions and their supporters have no moral authority.
The unions aren’t just funneling money to perverts. California’s worst schools are in African-American and Hispanic communities. These communities lack the finances either to augment their public schools (which is something we Marinites can do) or to put their children in private schools. The unions are unmoved by the poor children’s plight. As far as the unions are concerned, it’s better that the children remain in failing schools than that these communities get to place their children in functional, non-union private schools. Nehring wants to break this system, which visits its worst effects on those least able to escape it.
4. Reform the State Pension. California is currently facing a $100 billion short fall on its state pension system. Nehring wants California to follow San Diego’s example. (And did you know that San Diego is the biggest city in America that has a Republican mayor?) San Diego passed Prop. B, which said that all new government hires will get 401K defined benefit pension plans. Unlike government pensions, these won’t be manipulated, underfunded Ponzi schemes. Nehring notes that Prop. B passed with multipartisan support. The important thing was to get voters to understand that it was better for everyone.
Nehring closed his speech by saying that Republicans should be proud of their party. It got its start fighting against slavery. Indeed, he says every American should see Spielberg’s Lincoln, which emphasizes Lincoln’s greatness. (We part ways there. I thought it was a boring movie, but then I reflexively dislike Spielberg’s oeuvre.) Nehring also reminded us that it was California that started Reagan on his path to the White House.
During a short Q&A, Nehring said that, so far, Newsom has refused Nehring’s request for a debate. Also, he added that one of Newsom’s planned initiatives is drug legalization. (My feeling is that we should wait a while and see just how well that experiment works in Colorado and Washington, now that those states’ voters have willingly offered themselves up as guinea pigs for this test.)
Also, Nehring said that California’s infamous train to nowhere should be scrapped before it costs us even more. It is an entirely different project than that which was sold to California voters, and prices are skyrocketing.
The best way to combat climate change he says, isn’t to try to stop it, but is instead to adapt to it. (That, by the way, is a good line for Republican politicians, since it avoids their getting sucked into a battle with the rabid faithful about whether climate change is man-made. Accept that it exists, which it has since time immemorial, and move on.)
I came away from Nehring’s stump speech very impressed. He’s an incredibly personable candidate: young, dynamic, well-spoken, and clearly aware of core conservative issues that affect Californians generally and that appeal to Republicans specifically. A two-minute web search, however, reveals that, since he’s spent his career in California politics, a few issues have dogged him. In 2007, one of his employees, an Australian man, turned out to be in the country illegally, which was a laugh-a-minute among DemProgs.
The bigger problem for Nehring is that, in 2009/2010, he was viewed as a GOP establishment figure, rather than a true small government Tea Partier. My feeling is that this shouldn’t matter at all in the upcoming election. First, his speech indicates that, even though he’s still an official Republican, he’s listened to and learned about Tea Party complaints: lower taxes, smaller government, protection from trial lawyers, voter ID, school choice, etc. Moreover, when he said his parents had to have a sponsor, get a job, and learn English to come to America, he was clearly signaling, without saying, that he opposes amnesty. I admire anyone who has a learning curve.
In any event, there is no Tea Party candidate running for anything in California. Instead, it looks as if the Open Primaries will ensure that few, if any, Republicans even get on the November ballot and that most statewide offices will once again be held by DemProgs. The sad fact is that, in a bright red state, it’s hard for Republicans to get traction in an Open Primary. Nehring, however, will likely last to November. Just by being on the ballot, voters will be able to hear from both sides of the political divide, rather than watching two DemProgs slug it out over who believes in anthropogenic climate change more.
If he wins, Nehring will accomplish two things: He may be able to stop Gavin Newsom’s seemingly inevitable rise to the governorship, which would be a good thing. Also, to the extent that the Lt. Gov.’s office is largely ceremonial, that meshes perfectly well with Nehring’s ability to articulate conservative principles in interesting, clear, intelligent and, when appropriate, humorous fashion. California needs people who have a bully pulpit and can help wean voters from their sick addiction to DemProgs and their economically and socially destructive policies. And to the extent that the Lt. Gov. has appointment power for commissions and agencies, he can break the one-party hold on California’s administrative institutions.