Only four states in America have a Democratic sweep of the governorship and both legislative chambers. California is one of them (as opposed to the GOP which has done this in 25 states). In fact, in last month's election Democrats picked up a two-thirds supermajority in both the California State Senate and the California State Assembly.
It is into this environment that eight brand new GOP legislators were sworn into office Monday.
With this in mind, I offer the following advice to newbies, and to their 30 other GOP colleagues in the legislature:
1). Of the people, by the people. Humility is a quality for which you should constantly strive. You will be offered goodies and inducements from influence-seekers. These will be offers of free trips to Hawaii or other international locales; fancy dinners; golf at fancy resorts - all of which leads to voter cynicism. It's okay to reject these things.
2). Talk to the people about what matters. Focus your speeches, releases, and social media efforts on challenging what the Democrats, who are in control, are doing. No one cares to hear about your authoring innocuous bills that don't move the needle. Welcome to the loyal opposition - speak out!
3). So-called bi-partisan cooperation is a one-way street. Some of you (especially those that served in local elected office) may be arriving to the Capitol seeking to work with your Democrat colleagues towards mutual policy goals. You will very quickly learn that bipartisanship in Sacramento is really just about the need of the Democrats to get your vote to raise taxes - or getting you to channel your inner liberal and use the power of government to pick winners and losers (such as raising car taxes on the people, unrepresented by lobbyists, to then redistribute that money to businesses, represented by lobbyists, to give them regulatory relief - true example). I can think of no example to share with you of bipartisan cooperation in Sacramento leading to smaller, leaner state government (except maybe when the recession forced cuts years ago).
4). Targeted tax credit B.S. "But as the minority party this is the only tax relief I ever get to vote on" - words I've heard too many times from beleaguered GOP legislators. Let's be sure we all understand what happens with industry-specific special treatment. You are the last stop! Long before that special treatment legislation gets to the floor, big bucks have been transacted by those seeking the special treatment - such as funding the Speaker's Cup, and all of the other big-ticket Democratic Party fundraising events. When the tithing has reached its apex, suddenly the gift of public money takes place, and then Republicans just go along for the ride. When conservative legislators start using tax policy to pick winners and losers we have become those we were elected to defeat!
5). The state's public employees unions have purchased the Legislature. Understand that, with few exceptions, the CTA, SEIU and their ilk can and will get the votes of Democrat legislators whenever they insist on it. Period.
6). Remember who you are. It is important to remember that at every single meeting that you take, or participate in, the taxpayers have a representative in the room: you. The people don't hire lobbyists - you are their advocate in the Capitol.
A few years ago I had a conversation with a GOP legislator after they cast a disappointing vote to extend a very regressive tax. One comment they made that I will always remember was, "But I heard from so many articulate policy experts about why extending the tax was a good idea - and no one came to my office to lobby against it." Stay grounded and remember that you are that lobbyist for the taxpaying citizens of California.
7). Good advice abounds, seek it out. Talk to your colleagues, and talk to those who have served and now are back in the private sector. Wisdom is power; follow the laws of the public policy process.
8). Lower your expectations and focus on what matters. It doesn't take a degree in mathematics or physics to understand that if in every game their team puts 82 players on the field and you have 38 players, your team is going to lose - over and over and over again. The reality of your life as a GOP legislator in California is that you are on defense all of the time (unless you cut some deal and cast your vote to use the coercive power of government to screw over someone). Ignore the lame media spin that you are only effective as a legislator if you pass bills, since any bills of significance that pass pretty much suck. Focus your efforts outside of the Capitol, working to make sure next season more players on the field are wearing your team's jersey.
Jon Fleischman is the executive director of the California Republican Party.