Can anything good come from California? As you read this issue of the Chalcedon Report, political history could be taking place in the State of California. The State
Republican Party meets in convention the third week of February and the political power will shift to conservatives, who now control over two thirds of the seventeen hundred delegates.
How can this be, in the state that is home to both San Francisco and Hollywood? In large part, it is due to a small group of Christians, who have worked to be relevant, effective, and uncompromising in their service to the Lord in the field of political activism. The vehicle was an organization called The California Republican Assembly, and it may well be a good model to facilitate the same type of successes across the country
In recent issues, Chalcedon writers have considered how those who believe in the Lordship of Christ and the dominion mandate should involve themselves in American politics. We covered the necessity of dealing with the entrenched two-party system and how very frustrating it is working in a Republican Party so full of compromises. We agreed that Christians should not approach politics as “wanting a seat at the table” as if the Creator of the Universe, or his vice-regents, need to ask permission to be involved. God owns the cattle on a thousand hills and will accomplish whatever He pleases with, or without, us or the political parties.
Christians should be concerned about being obedient. Christians are commanded to pray for peace in the land so that we have the freedom to preach the gospel and further God’s Kingdom. Political involvement in a constitutional republic is a natural obligation for those who take these prayers seriously, whether it is full-time service or just being an informed voter. Christians who choose to volunteer or work in political endeavors want to know that their work will be effective, and that they will not be called upon to compromise Biblical principles. This is where the California model may be helpful.
The Course of the California Republican Assembly
The California Republican Assembly was begun in 1934 to assist the Republican Party and has wandered from liberal to conservative throughout the years. CRA has been relevant because of its ability to endorse Republican candidates in primaries. In early 1988, supporters of Pat Robertson wanted to work for the CRA endorsement. They found that it did not take many people to dominate the process. In Sacramento one church provided over two hundred new members for a CRA local group where average attendance was running about twenty-five. Pat Robertson’s presidential aspirations were over long before he reached the California primary, but new conservatives in the CRA went on to make history.
Many Christians had labored for years with groups like Eagle Forum and Women’s Lobby to pass good legislation. However, there was a growing concern that more direct political action was needed for the long run. After the 1988 elections, these activists and the new “Robertson troops” met with concerned conservative legislators, who were very few in number at that time in California. It was decided that the CRA could be an effective vehicle to use in influencing the Republican Party and give principled activists a place to serve. By 1992, the California Republican Assembly had become the “conservative conscience” of the California Republican Party. Today the CRA has over seven thousand members working in over one hundred chapters throughout the state. The primary purpose of the CRA is to elect principled conservative candidates; this is accomplished by working hard in the primaries. Our political sophistication has grown over the years to the point that we now recruit candidates in areas we determine are strategically important. We have begun to raise significant amounts of campaign cash as well. The CRA political action committee contributed over $75,000 in the last cycle alone.
The other important area of influence came at the state party level. Having control of the oldest and largest volunteer organization in the party meant increased ability to effect what happens within the party. By focusing on key county committees, electing more conservative office-holders and in some cases just paying attention to what was going on, CRA began to control more and more of the state party appointments. In 1991 CRA helped elect the first conservative party chairman in years, and by 1993, the CRA was able to elect conservatives to a majority of the board positions for the state party. Unfortunately, the man next in line for party chairman was not a strong conservative. It would have caused quite a stir to run someone against him and the decision was made to wait because there was no sense in taking over the party just for the sake of showing we could! We had seen the problem in other states, or at the local level, of party donors just picking up their marbles and going home. We knew the time would come to elect another conservative party chairman and that it should be someone who could relate well with the major donors. We began to select those who were qualified and elected them to lower offices, in some cases winning by as few as eight votes! The Christians who were major donors began to network together and sought others to help them. Everyone understood that we needed a party that had a principled vision, a strong volunteer base, and the financial resources to do the practical work of politics.
In 1995, a strong conservative was elected to the position of vice chairman and is running unopposed for chairman this year. It is likely that every other position on the state board will be held by conservatives as well. All of this was accomplished while liberal Republican Pete Wilson served as governor and did everything he could to minimize the impact of conservatives in the Republican Party!
That same group of conservatives meeting in 1988 could have decided to start a “third party.” If they had, they would be in total control, write the greatest party platforms since the Declaration of Independence and hold fun conventions. Alas, all would be for naught since they would be totally irrelevant to the actual work of politics, and often counterproductive like the Libertarian Party has been for years.
As Reformed Christians we know that the new leadership of the California Republican Party will not be perfect and there will be many new battles to fight. However, it is exciting to have an organization where we can exert a strong and effective influence on one of the major parties. Arizona has begun a Republican Assembly and they are experiencing similar successes. Other states have now expressed an interest as well. Those who might be interested in starting a Republican Assembly in their state should feel free to contact me for more information. You can also visit the CRA web site at http://www.he.tdl.com/~cra.