In March, April and May, I wrote a series of columns about the sorry condition of California's GOP (here, here and here). I also handicapped the party's dismal prospects for winning any of the three most critical elections—either of the two U.S. Senate seats currently held by Democrats Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein or the 2010 governor's race to replace termed-out Republican incumbent Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Although Boxer will also run in 2010 for re-election, California is in such dire straits that all eyes will be on the governor's contest. That shapes up as a probable match between Republican political novice Meg Whitman versus either of two Democratic veterans, Feinstein or the omnipresent former governor and current Attorney General Jerry Brown.
But since early spring when I gave my first assessment, California's political sands have shifted. And with the change, a Republican has suddenly vaulted into the forefront of the state's politics.
In fact, although it's way early, I make State Senator Abel Maldonado the odds-on pick in 2014 to become California's governor.
For immigration reform patriots, that's much more bad news than it is good news. While Maldonado is indeed a Republican—technically—he points to his migrant farm worker parents as the reason for his fierce illegal immigration advocacy.
How a relatively obscure state representative from Santa Maria will become California's first Hispanic governor since Romualdo Pacheco, Jr., in 1875 is an interesting tale. [Senator Abel Maldonado Has Made A Name for Himself, by Steve Chawkins and Patrick McGreevy, Los Angeles Times, February 22, 2009]
Maldonado will pull it off with a combination of luck and skill.
Specifically, this is how he'll do it:
In a stroke of good fortune for Maldonado, Lt. Governor John Garamendi recently announced that he was abandoning his moribund gubernatorial effort to run instead for the congressional seat about to be vacated when Ellen Tauscher leaves for Washington DC to serve as Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security. [Ellen Tauscher Is Off to the State Department for Sure, by Anne Schroeder Mullens, POLITICO.com, March 19, 2009]
That means Schwarzenegger must appoint Garamendi's replacement. And, as it happens, Republican Schwarzenegger owes Republican Maldonado a favor.
During Schwarzenegger's bitter dispute with the state legislature to close California's $40 billion budget deficit (via higher taxes and more debt), Maldonado infuriated his conservative Republican colleagues when he sided with the governor.
But at the same time, Maldonado ingratiated himself, not only with Schwarzenegger, but also with California's Democrats and independents eager to end the impasse.
Step one in Maldonado's ascent, then, will take place in a few weeks when Schwarzenegger appoints him to replace Garamendi.
Suddenly, Maldonado will emerge from relative political obscurity to become a key player who, because of his Mexican immigrant background, will be hyped to the max by California's adoring MainStream Media.
Step two will occur in November 2010 when either Feinstein or Brown easily defeat the Republican candidate—presumably Whitman.
By 2014—the next year the gubernatorial election rolls around—several things will have evolved, all of which play in Maldonado's favor.
Maldonado has been building toward his political ascendancy since 2000.
As a freshman state assemblyman he accepted an invitation from then-presidential candidate George W. Bush to give a Spanish-language speech to the Republican presidential convention aimed at wooing Hispanic voters. (Vainly, of course).
And in 2008, again addressing the Republican convention, Maldonado closed with these words (translated from Spanish):
"John McCain and my father would be good amigos. Ladies and gentlemen, que viva the immigrant story."
Maldonado's bracero father, it is worth noting, lived in California as a permanent resident for more than forty years before he recently became a citizen.
In his own words, Maldonado calls himself "the future of this party" and claims that the GOP needs more Latinos to be its public face.
"If we don't change, we're going to go back to the old ways, and we're going to continue to lose," said Maldonado, who faulted the party's hard line against illegal immigration. "They don't get it on illegal immigration," he said.
Republican old-timers who may disagree with Maldonado "can beat me up all they want," he told reporters at a luncheon while he was surrounded by erstwhile allies who, since his support of Schwarzenegger's budget compromise, now view him as an enemy. [GOP Withering Away in California Heat? by Alex Isenstadt, Politico.Com, April 14, 2009]
Another Maldonado bonus: his campaign will attract a broader base of non-Hispanic California voters, who cannot support other would-be Hispanic candidates like the sleazy Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, but can stomach the vastly smoother, more intelligent Maldonado.
Last but certainly not least, Maldonado will play his immigrant success story to the hilt. His family's strawberry farm is a 6,000-acre multi-million dollar business that ships produce worldwide.
By the time Maldonado reaches the governor's mansion, Mexico's takeover of California—what remains of it—will be complete.
Maldonado's family succeeded. But the vast majority of immigrant newcomers fail.
For those optionless Californians left behind, the picture will not be pretty.
By 2014, Hispanics could control state politics, both the legislature and the governor's seat.
Whatever token resistance now exists to defeat illegal immigrant measures like driver's licenses for aliens or reduced access to health care will vanish. Don't expect Maldonado to get religion once he becomes California's chief executive.
Of course, none of this is inevitable. As Peter Brimelow recently pointed out, the GOP has so completely failed to mobilize its base in California that in 2008 John McCain actually failed to carry the white vote there. But there is no sign that "Republican strategists" are going to get the message.
California's tragedy has been a long time coming. Immigration reform patriots have predicted the state's demise for years.
Still, for this California native, watching it actually happen is unbearably sad.
Joe Guzzardi [email him] is a California native who recently fled the state because of over-immigration, over-population and a rapidly deteriorating quality of life. He has moved to Pittsburgh, PA where the air is clean and the growth rate stable. A long-time instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, Guzzardi has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.