GOLIS: Can local Republicans come back?

Peter Behr was a Yale-educated lawyer who represented the North Bay in the state Senate from 1970 to 1978. Among the Legislature's most passionate advocates for the environment, Behr, who died in 1997, led the campaign to create the Point Reyes National Seashore, and he authored legislation to protect the state's wild and scenic rivers.

William T. Bagley is a Berkeley-educated lawyer (and valedictorian of his senior class) who represented the North Bay in the state Assembly from 1960 to 1974. As a lawmaker, Bagley championed fair housing, open government and civil rights legislation.

There's one other thing you should know about the legislative careers of Behr and Bagley: Both were Republicans.

As leaders of the California Republican Party last week tried to explain the decline of GOP fortunes, what was most surprising is that they seemed surprised.

Having gone out of their way to antagonize large numbers of women, minorities, public employees, teachers, young people, environmentalists, low-income people, gay people and anyone with a gay friend or family member, one wonders: What did they think was going to happen?

Some of my best friends are middle-aged (or older) white men, but if you think they are all you need to build a successful political movement, you will be disappointed.

Even longtime and loyal Republicans have drifted away from a party that seems increasingly determined to marginalize itself.

Once upon a time, voters in Sonoma County routinely voted for Republicans — Behr and Bagley, state Sen. Jim Nielsen, Assemblyman Don Sebastiani, Assemblywoman Bev Hansen, the late Assemblyman Bill Filante, Rep. Don Clausen, Rep. Frank Riggs.

Those days seem long ago and far away. Today, there are more than twice as many Democrats as Republicans in Sonoma County, and Republicans barely outnumber voters who decline to state a party preference.

It's true that the electorate changed. Growth in the 1970s and 1980s brought new people, and most of them were Democrats. A rural county once dominated by real estate and farm interests would be slowly transformed by new arrivals who envisioned a larger role for government.

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