Commentary: California's GOP needs an update

It's no secret that in the past 30 years, Californians have become more tolerant of gay rights, as have millions of other Americans. But in California, according to data reported last Friday at a conference of pollsters by Mark DiCamillo of the Field Poll, the change of attitude was almost entirely among Democrats and independents.

Republicans are almost exactly where they were in 1977.

So does that just make the GOP a party of genetically slow learners, a claque so rigid, insular and detached from changes in the real world that they either don't know or don't care? Their extortionate demands in the face of what the governor, once their hero, called the looming "financial Armageddon," in the current budget crisis make that a credible theory.

The more plausible explanation is that these aren't the Republicans of 1977. They aren't moderates like Bob Monagan, Bill Bagley, Ken Maddy or Pete Wilson, or pragmatists like Ronald Reagan, who in 1967 approved a major tax increase to resolve a prior budget crisis.

Today's GOP is a very different party, a hard-line group of self-insulated ideologues, more like a political cult than like an inclusive party that stretches its core principles to be inviting to people at or beyond that core.

The biggest increase in voter registration has been among independents, who now represent 20 percent of California's electorate. Democrats and Republicans have both lost market share. Both have been driven, or driven themselves toward the ideological margins.

The self-marginalization has been far greater among Republicans, who exclude independent voters from their primaries, who have made no effort to reach out to California's fast-growing minorities, Latinos especially, or for that matter to women. Many voters who would once have been Republicans, and a lot who probably were, are now independents and even Democrats. As Casey Stengel said, you can look it up.

To read the complete column, visit The Sacramento Bee.