As a Republican of the Eisenhower-Nixon-Reagan-George H. W. Bush variety, the recent, stunning defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and the near victory of Tim Donnelly to oppose California Governor Jerry Brown in November are troubling. A great national party benefits from a diversity of views. There are those who believe the Republican Party should hew to the hard right. I am not one of these. Rather, the Republican Party should move closer to the political center.
From a personal perspective, I cannot see how the Republican Party can continue to compete on a national basis over time (irrespective of the outcome in particular elections) without changing its position on three issues in particular: 1) abortion, 2) gay marriage, and 3) public education. While I have great respect for individuals who oppose abortion on a personal basis, the larger society has spoken. Legal abortion is, will be, and should remain the law of the land.
With respect to gay marriage, the larger society is also speaking, if it has not yet fully spoken. Gay marriage will also become legal throughout the United States in the coming years. It’s time for the GOP to move on from opposition to gay marriage. Concerning public education, I have always felt that the best course to improve education is to focus on the public system that educates 90 percent of children. By all means, it is appropriate to work for reform of and choice within the public system, but there is no reason to denigrate or reflexively oppose it.
The Republican Party retains strong residual support nationwide. Particularly in California, the GOP should emphasize three issues: 1) energy development, 2) lower taxes for working families, and 3) public employee pension reform.
Concerning energy development, the United States has abundant energy resources. Though many on the environmental left don’t believe it, fracking at a national level has made possible substantially reduced emissions of CO2 through allowing the replacement of coal by natural gas. In addition, energy production is great for the economy and reduces energy imports to the United States. There are abundant economic and environmental reasons to encourage energy development in the United States.
With respect to lower taxes for working families, it is highly undesirable that income and wealth have become so unequally spread in the United States. Tax policy makes a huge difference. At a national level, Social Security taxes on working families with children should be reduced. At a state and local level, regressive sales taxes, fees, and charges should be reduced.
Regarding public employee pension reform, public pension systems remain unsustainable. Projected annual returns of 7.5 percent per year or more are not realistic. Reform of pension programs is vital not just for the funding of government services but for the benefit of public employees.
There is nothing wrong with being a “Republican centrist” — in fact, it is the direction in which the party should move. From my own perspective, I believe it is unhelpful always to criticize one’s political opponents, especially personally, and to reject compromise and attempting to find middle or common ground. When I served on the Santa Barbara school board, one of the lessons I learned was that reasonable people of good will can differ on issues. They do all the time.
The Republican Party should move to the political center. Extreme anti-governmentalism and neo-anarchism have no place in state, national, or local politics and are certainly not in line with conservative values. The United States, and particularly California, would benefit from a healthy, two-party system. Ironically, a move by the GOP to the political center would probably also pull the Democratic Party in this direction. It’s time to end the polarization in American politics.
Lanny Ebenstein is a past member of the Santa Barbara Board of Education and the Santa Barbara County Republican Central Committee.