Neel Kashkaris announcement last week that hes running for governor might hearten Republican voters and make them wistful.
Looking at current polls, no Republican has much of a chance to defeat Gov. Jerry Brown. But Kashkari offers Republicans an alternative to Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, the very conservative Republican from San Bernardino County whose nomination would set back a state party whose registration has dipped below 30 percent.
Declaring his candidacy at California State University, Sacramento, Kashkari, 40, repeatedly said California has the highest number and percentage of residents living in poverty, an important and appalling fact.
He talked about the need to improve schools and the business climate, and did not rant against illegal immigration. All should please thinking Republicans who want to regain their equilibrium in the nations most populous state. Unfortunately, we fear the party is still held captive by the conservatives who see no value in compromise and who judge candidates by their willingness to adhere to a strict and antiquated dogma.
Kashkari is out to break that mold. The son of immigrants from India who live in Akron, Ohio, Kashkari got a masters degree in engineering from the University of Illinois and a masters in business administration from the prestigious Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He worked in Silicon Valley and was President George W. Bushs assistant secretary of the Treasury Department during the 2008 financial crisis and was one of the officials who helped avert a depression.
Although his personal story is intriguing and he hit important themes in his announcement, his thin government experience should be of concern to voters.
Not long ago, California Republicans produced George Deukmejian, who worked his way up from the state Assembly and Senate, where he was among Ronald Reagans main lieutenants when Reagan was governor, to attorney general and then governor.
Pete Wilson, who was in the Assembly during Reagans time, became mayor of San Diego and U.S. senator before becoming governor. Dan Lungren lost in 1998 to Gray Davis, but certainly had the experience to run the state, having served in Congress and as attorney general. Arnold Schwarzenegger used his star power to attract experienced hands, but had no experience in government himself, and it showed.
In 2010, the GOP nominated Meg Whitman, a candidate who lacked any governmental experience, and was trounced, despite spending $140 million.
Past civic involvement is a basic requirement for a serious candidacy, and is not something all Republicans seeking statewide office have displayed in recent years. As The Sacramento Bees David Siders wrote in December, Kashkaris voting record has been fairly consistent in recent years, but not as consistent in his earlier years.
If California had a more grounded GOP, party elders might have encouraged Kashkari to seek a lesser office, say, Assembly or, to be bold, treasurer. But the California GOP has a recruitment problem.
Serious Republican candidates have not emerged to challenge Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom or Attorney General Kamala Harris. Dan Schnur, once a top Republican consultant and college professor, dropped his party affiliation in 2011, and is running for secretary of state as a no-party-preference candidate.
Republicans ought to be pleased that Kashkari offers an alternative to Donnelly. All voters should be heartened that a statewide candidate seems to be offering an anti-poverty message. But though theres time between now and Election Day, the GOP has fallen far in California and will have a long road back.