S.B. Activists Play Big Roles in State Party Politics

Greg Gandrud and Daraka Larimore-Hall are Partisan Worlds Apart

Daraka Larimore-Hall
Courtesy Photo

Santa Barbara conservative gadfly Greg Gandrud won election as treasurer of the California Republican Party over the weekend at a rowdy convention featuring bitter debate and demonstrations over how closely to embrace Donald Trump.

“The party delegation reflects a range of views on the president,” Gandrud told us, in the understatement of the week.

When the dust settled in the Sacramento Convention Center, 1,500 Republican delegates chose their first-ever woman chair in a victory for elected officials and the party’s business wing: Jessica Patterson, a millennial Latina mother of two from Simi Valley, allied with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield, defeated Travis Allen and Steve Frank, two raw-meat, MAGA, Build-the-Wall Trumpistas.

With their president hugely unpopular in California, Republicans have fallen to third place as a voter bloc, do not hold a statewide office, occupy fewer than one-third of seats in the Legislature, and just suffered a historic, midterm congressional wipeout. So, Patterson called for the party to turn down the volume on national issues in favor of attacking Dems on matters closer to home, like housing and state taxes.

Pundits cast her victory as a Republican move, however belated, to expand their base beyond right-wing old white guys and align themselves more closely with California’s emergent populations, tossing Grandrud’s election into the mix. As Politico put it: “In a nod to state Republicans calling for more diversity in their ranks, delegates on Sunday also elected Peter Kuo, an East Bay businessman who is an immigrant from Taiwan, to be its vice chairman, and Greg Gandrud, who is openly gay, as its treasurer.”

In an email interview, Gandrud shrugged off identity politics: “California is a diverse state and we welcome people of all backgrounds,” he said. “Being gay in the Republican Party is a non-issue.”

Gandrud, who is playing a key role in the lawsuit against the Santa Barbara School Board challenging the Just Communities anti-bias training program for which the district has contracted, instead underscored the state focus articulated by the new GOP chair: “The real issues here in California include the high cost of housing, storing more water, and maintaining and increasing roadway capacity. The majority of Californians agree that Republicans have great solutions on all of those issues.”

Hic manebimus optime.

Greg Gandrud
Courtesy Photo

Spring Showdown Looms: On the far other side of the partisan divide, longtime Santa Barbara Democratic activist Daraka Larimore-Hall is running hard to lead the state party organization, following the forced resignation of its chair in a sexual harassment scandal.

As vice chair, Daraka disclosed staff complaints about then-chair Eric Bauman, leading to his departure. Now he’s campaigning for the top job when the Dems convene in May in San Francisco. He is expected to face competition from Rusty Hicks, president of the L.A. County labor federation and Bay Area progressive activist Kimberly Ellis.

After announcing via video a few weeks ago, Daraka kicked things off with a Rusty’s Pizza fundraiser and is now distributing a detailed platform of his views and vision to delegates and activists around the state (darakaforcdpchair.com).

Among other proposals, he backs the “Green New Deal” climate change manifesto set forth by Democratic Socialist Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and “a truly universal, publicly funded single payer healthcare system,” two items that California Republicans surely will harp on between now and 2020, as they seek to dig themselves out of a very deep hole.

State of Play: California Senator Kamala Harris got major buzz and a boost in the polls with a successful rollout of her presidential bid, orchestrated by SCRB Strategies, the San Francisco powerhouse political consulting firm, which also represents Gov. Gavin Newsom.

A modest proposal: Ignore all polls on the Democratic race until former Veep Joe Biden decides whether or not he’s running. If he goes, Biden becomes the instant front-runner and the mob of Senators chasing the nomination then perform mortal combat to decide who will be his chief foil on his left; if he stays out, Senator Bernie Sanders becomes the contest’s center of gravity and a key question will be whether a more moderate contender ​— ​e.g., Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio or Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota ​— ​can gain traction in the center.


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