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California Republicans Debate Future Amid Budget Drama

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(CBS)

(CBS)

SACRAMENTO (CBS / AP) — California Republicans meet in Sacramento this weekend at a time of high tension within the party, with GOP lawmakers being pressured to avoid compromise with Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown and the party struggling to stay relevant after widespread losses at the polls in 2010.

Among the contentious items being debated is a resolution that would brand as a traitor any Republican lawmaker who agrees to let voters decide whether to extend a series of tax increases to help close the state’s budget shortfall. Brown has asked the Legislature to call the special election, along with making $12.5 billion in spending cuts, to help close the state’s $26.6 billion deficit.

The state party also will consider ways to thwart the effects of California’s new top-two primary system, which voters approved in the hope that it would force candidates to appeal to a wider pool of voters and thus lead to more moderate politicians headed to Sacramento.

The party’s three-day spring convention opens Friday night with an address by John Bolton, who served as United Nations ambassador and a top arms control official under former President George W. Bush. Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, a potential GOP presidential candidate, is the keynote speaker Saturday.

Many Republicans are caught in a family feud over ideology — how far to the right the party should hue in a state that is becoming increasingly diverse and trending toward Democrats, who won every statewide office last November.

Two of the most polarizing resolutions, both proposed by the conservative wing of the party, will test where rank-and-file delegates fall on the scale.

One seeks to discourage GOP state lawmakers from striking a deal over Brown’s proposal to address California’s budget shortfall, which includes letting voters decide whether to extend the increases to personal income, sales and vehicle taxes enacted two years ago. The temporary tax increases are scheduled to expire this year.

The resolution would brand any lawmakers who vote for Brown’s ballot proposal “traitorous Republicans-in-name-only” and call for their resignation from office. Supporters want the party to help fund recall campaigns against such politicians and prohibit them from getting financial help from the party in the future.

Another, introduced by outgoing party Chairman Ron Nehring, would let party leaders officially endorse Republican candidates ahead of primaries. It is an attempt to blunt the impact of Proposition 14, the voter-approved measure that allows the top two vote-getters to advance to the general election, regardless of party affiliation.

Opponents of Nehring’s plan, including nearly all Republicans in the state’s congressional delegation and Legislature, say it would disenfranchise Republican voters and cut off funding for candidates who survive the primary but did not win the party’s official endorsement.

Both major political parties opposed Proposition 14, which sought to produce more moderate general election candidates. Under the previous party primary system, Republicans and Democrats often were forced to pander to the most extreme elements of their parties.

The only Republicans to successfully win statewide in California in the past decade are considered moderates: former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who never had to run the party’s primary gauntlet, and former state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, who was independently wealthy and ran as a moderate in 2006.

Republicans and Democrats also are struggling with the still-unknown consequences of voter-approved redistricting. An independent commission is set to redraw legislative and congressional districts before 2012, based on new U.S. Census data. The current districts were drawn by the Legislature a decade ago to protect the political status quo at the time.

Nehring, who will be replaced this weekend because his four-year term is up, spoke often about the party’s extensive outreach efforts with minority communities, yet party registration has continued to fall. It now stands at nearly 31 percent, compared with 44 percent for Democrats and 20 percent of the electorate who call themselves independents.

A decade ago, Republicans accounted for nearly 35 percent of registered voters in California.

Adding to the party’s long-term concerns is the growing diversity of the state. The GOP is dominated by older, white voters and has forced its candidates to draw a hard line on immigration over the past two decades, a stance that has alienated immigrant groups.

Census data released earlier this month show Latinos are the fastest-growing community and comprise nearly 38 percent of California’s population. They have tended to vote Democratic as their participation in elections has grown.

Asians were the next fastest growing group and now account for nearly 13 percent of all Californians.

A vice chairman of the party, Tom Del Beccaro, is expected to win the nomination as the party’s next chairman this weekend and has already launched an outreach campaign. That includes an ad on YouTube in which his supporters compare the California Republican Party to a losing sports team that could rebound with new management.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services may have contributed to this report.)

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