Tim Donnelly, a Southern California state assemblyman who made his
name as a leader for the anti-illegal immigration Minutemen Project,
brought the crowd of several hundred party activists to its feet in
a speech that slammed Brown, warned of government tyranny and
criticized recent efforts in the state to allow transgender children
to use school restrooms in accordance with their gender identities.
"I want my state back," said Donnelly, a businessman who represents
the conservative desert area east of Los Angeles. He blamed
government regulation for driving customers away from a plastics
business that he founded. "I want my freedom back."
About 1,000 delegates and guests attended the weekend convention in
Burlingame, about 15 miles south of San Francisco. Speakers included
former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Republican
National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus who urged members to
strike a more inclusive tone as the party struggles to rebuild in a
state where it once dominated.
"We have a responsibility to those who do not yet have the liberties
and the rights that we enjoy," Rice told the group on Saturday as
part of a speech urging the party to become more inclusive on issues
like immigration. "We cannot abandon them ... We were once them."
The convention took place after months of strategizing and
fundraising led by former Republican state senate leader Jim Brulte.
In a state where Democrats control both legislative houses and every
statewide elected office, Brulte is charged with helping to revive
the party's moribund operation.
Just 29 percent of voters were registered Republicans in California
in 2013, down from about 35 percent in 2005, part of a long decline
in the party of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan in the increasingly
diverse and socially liberal state.
Brown, who served as the state's top executive from 1975 to 1983
before winning the spot again in 2010, is seeking a fourth term as
governor. By steering Democrats in the legislature sharply toward
the center and stubbornly demanding fiscal restraint, his focus on
paying down debt while restoring funding in key areas such as
education has won him high approval ratings in a state where voters
can be fickle.
But it was clear from the differing reactions to Donnelly and a more
moderate candidate, former U.S. Treasury official Neel Kashkari,
that this was a conservative crowd.
Kashkari, who is seeking support from business interests in the
state and is more moderate than Donnelly on many social issues, has
made jobs and education the cornerstone of his campaign. He cited
support from college Republicans and said he planned to meet with
party activists in their hometowns after the convention ended.
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"I'm running for governor because California is failing millions of
our families," Kashkari said, referring to low-performing schools
and a weak rate of job creation. His speech was met with polite
applause, but not with the thunderous reaction that delegates gave
At the convention and behind the scenes, Republican leaders have
been urging candidates to be more inclusive and to refrain from
inflammatory rhetoric. In his speech, Donnelly avoided talking about
immigration and religion.
Democrats, he told the delegates, were not the enemy — they were
Donnelly, 47, has an impassioned, populist style of speaking that
tends to include a lot of zingers. His Burlingame speech was not
without swipes at liberal causes, including environmentalists who
want a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a
controversial method of extracting natural gas and oil from
underground rock deposits.
"We ought to frack our way to prosperity and drill our way to
prosperity, rather than sitting on an ocean of oil and importing it
from our enemies," he said to wild applause.
On his first day in office, Donnelly said, he would declare a
moratorium on all laws that would restrict freedom, businesses or
the constitutional rights of Californians.
He also railed against politicians who want to allow boys to use the
girls' restroom at school, a jab at a recent state law allowing
transgender youth to play sports or use bathrooms in accordance with
their gender identities.
Assemblyman Brian Jones, a San Diego-area Republican who has thrown
his support behind Donnelly, said that the sometimes provocative
candidate has taken to heart pleas from senior party leaders and the
business community to make his message more inclusive.
"He's saying the same things, but in a more welcoming manner," Jones
said. "He's grown and is paying attention and being responsive to
(Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Matthew Lewis)
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