Santana: Could OC College Republicans Save the GOP?

For many young Republicans at California colleges, getting local establishment elders to back things like bringing provocateur speaker Milo Yiannopoulos to town or suing the local university over student freedom of expression, isn’t easy.

Indeed, many of the California College Republicans attending a strategy retreat at the Nixon Library this weekend in Yorba Linda, said California’s Republican state party as well as many of its county central committees seem afraid to engage them, concerned about getting pulled into culture wars, given their numerical weakness in terms of statewide elected or legislative offices in the Golden State.

Not so in Orange County.

“We’re a little different here than the state party,” said Orange County Republican Party Chairman Fred Whitaker after talking to student activists.

“I want to invigorate these kids.”

Whitaker advised students to engage their central committees, using Orange County as a model, where local GOP leaders stepped up and offered legal representation to activists at Orange Coast Community College last year when a Republican student activist got embroiled in a controversy with school officials after videotaping a lecture from a professor that went viral on social media.

He also noted they worked with college activists at UCI and paid for extra security when Yiannopoulos came to visit there. Party leaders also are helping out with his expected visit soon to Cal State Fullerton, Whitaker said.

“For young people, sometimes provocation is a way to bring people together to hear your ideas,” Whitaker told students.

“When you are on campus, you are the counter culture,” Whitaker said, calling it “incredibly fun” to bait Democrats.

Yet Whitaker also reminded students that it’s not just about having fun.

It’s about getting people elected.

“Don’t be an island on your campus,” he said, urging students to volunteer for get-out-the-vote efforts at their county parties, becoming relevant at the local level.

He’s talking about people like Ariana Rowlands, president of the College Republicans at UCI, who now is running for state chair of California’s College Republicans.

Rowlands, who led efforts to organize the weekend strategy retreat for college Republicans this weekend at the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda, said she represents a millennial movement that wants to challenge big state thinking.

“We’re out there, in the fire,” said Rowlands, 20, who led the effort to bring Yiannopoulos to UCI. “We fight back. We don’t let people push us around.”

When she got up before her peers, Rowlands welcomed them to the weekend retreat and warned college Republicans are under assault.

The idea for this past weekend was to hone engagement skills.

Weekend sessions, Rowland said, were scheduled to work on fundamentals like local fundraising, fighting back against university administrators seeking to illegally shut down events or speech as well as engaging local Republican party central committees and local media.

“These are the faces of the future of the Republican Party,” Rowlands said.

“California is leading the way. We’re fighting back.”

San Diego radio host, Carl DeMaio – a former city councilman who ran for mayor and Congress – told student leaders on Saturday they could transform the state’s “Democrat-Light” Republican leaders by joining grassroots party efforts like his bid to rescind the recent car tax.

“We have to show them what winning is like,” he said.

Voter registration numbers for the GOP in California show a stark reality.

Democrats account for 44.8 percent of registered voters. Republicans are at 25.9 percent, just barely ahead of No Party Preference, which now stands at 24.5 percent, according to the California Secretary of State's last count.

Even in Orange County, the traditional lead for Republicans in voter registration has shrunk.

Today, Republicans account for 37.5 percent of registered voters, followed closely by Democrats at 33.8 percent and No Party Preference at 24.2 percent.

Both DeMaio and Whitaker told students having the car tax recall on the ballot is key to Republican chances in 2018.

“We need to be the conscience of the Republican Party,” said DeMaio, encouraging students to become the lifeblood of local campaigns throughout the state.

And the car tax recall, he said, is tailor made for the GOP.

“Making government work better doesn’t mean we pay more,” he said.

During his presentation on local fundraising, DeMaio often cheered State Senator John Moorlach of Costa Mesa as a great example of standing firm against a Democrat-controlled legislature, offering bold ideas and thriving politically.

Yet to present alternative views, DeMaio said, students need to be adept fundraisers.

“Ask, Ask, Ask,” said DeMaio, encouraging students to start keeping lists of donors now as well as reviewing what other local donors are giving to their local Republican candidates.

Congresswoman Mimi Walters, who represents South Orange County's 45th Congressional District, talked to students about her three decades of party activism – fundraising and walking for candidates - which she said put her in a solid position to attain her dream job when former Congressman John Campbell abruptly announced his retirement a few years ago.

Walters told students she actually lost her first bid for office, Laguna Niguel city council, in 1996 but her party activism was helpful in getting appointed after then-councilman Tom Wilson got elected to the board of supervisors.

Knowing how to run the basics of campaigns, outreach and fundraising, is what gave her the edge to beat Wilson nearly a decade later when he ran for state assembly as chairman of the board of supervisors, she said.

It also made the difference a few years later when she was in the State Senate and Campbell announced he wouldn’t run for reelection.

She was such a force on the phone, she told students, that she locked up the congressional seat before there was even an election.

This coming year, Walters will face her toughest challenge yet with several Democratic challengers already fundraising to take her out.

Walters sent a message Saturday. She's ready.

While many politicians hate working the phones to fundraise, Walters told students said she embraced it, as her training as a stockbroker helped her get comfortable pitching people over a phone.

“If you don’t want to get on the phone and ask for money, don’t run for office.”