Herdt: California mayor has right GOP pitch

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Now that the dust has settled from the 2014 elections, the California Republican Party finds itself in not much better position than it was in before.

The GOP did make some gains in the state Legislature, taking away the Democrats’ largely symbolic two-thirds majority status, and increased not only its numbers but also its diversity with the election of three new Asian-American female lawmakers.

Still, come January, all the decision-making positions in state government will be held by Democrats — the governor, the Assembly speaker, the Senate president pro tem, the attorney general, the treasurer and all the other state constitutional officers.

There will be few if any opportunities for the beleaguered state GOP to demonstrate to voters that the party actually has a vision for governance that would effectively and efficiently deliver the services that Californians expect and rely upon.

If Republicans in California are to rebound, it won’t be by simply belittling the majority party or railing against the “crazy train.” It will be by persuading voters they don’t want to drown government but to make it work better.

No Republican in California is better poised to show the way than San Diego’s Kevin Faulconer, mayor of America’s eighth-largest city. Mayors never get a pass on the challenge of trying to make government work.

Faulconer was steeped at an early age in the nitty-gritty of delivering government services at the local level. Growing up in Oxnard, his father was an assistant city manager in Oxnard and his mother was an administrator at Ventura and Oxnard colleges.

He gets that the job he was elected to in February is all about getting things done.

Speaking with Faulconer in his City Hall office last month, it was challenging to keep pace with all the initiatives on his agenda.

There’s a new water reclamation plant in the works that will provide toilet-to-tap recycling.

Coupled with San Diego’s soon-to-come-on-line desalination plant and conservation efforts, Faulconer said he envisions the city supplying a third of its own water supply by 2035.

“It’s all about water independence for us. We’re right at the end of the tap,” he told me. “At one point, we were 95 percent reliant on the State Water Project. Now we’re less than 70 percent. We’ve got to keep that number going in the right direction.”

In September, he unveiled a climate action plan that calls for reducing the city’s carbon emissions by half by 2035. Faulconer asserts it will spur economic growth by inducing clean-tech development.

Faulconer earned his fiscal-conservative credentials as a city councilman in part because he was a leader in the effort to adopt pension reforms in San Diego that eliminated defined-benefit pensions for new city workers other than police officers and replaced them with 401(k)-style plans.

But as the city begins to reap some savings from that measure, Faulconer isn’t shy about suggesting ways to reinvest them — including granting pay raises to police officers whose salaries are at rock bottom compared to comparable law enforcement agencies.

Faulconer wants to build a permanent homeless shelter to replace temporary tents that have sheltered the homeless for decades.

Ultimately, he says, San Diego needs to “focus on permanent supportive housing” that will provide not just shelter, but also services to address the underlying human needs that lead to homelessness.

There is more on his plate, including addressing unmet infrastructure needs that the city budget analyst last month estimated at $10 billion — and suggested one way to start dealing with the problem would be to raise taxes.

Faulconer is a Republican mayor in a city with 89,000 more Democratic voters than Republicans. The City Council has a 6-3 Democratic majority. He’s enjoyed a bit of a honeymoon because he inherited a city still recovering from a financial crisis so severe that its credit rating had been suspended and because he replaced a mayor whose history of sexual harassment had become a national embarrassment.

Still, Faulconer is aware that if he wants to be re-elected in 2016, it won’t be by passing blame or mouthing anti-government rhetoric. He will have to provide his constituents with some deliverables. “I’m proud of my approach: What’s the right thing we should be doing for San Diego? That resonates well,” he said. “It can’t be about what you’re against; it has to be about what you’re for.

“Government reform. Water reliability. Addressing climate change. These are issues that transcend partisanship.”

Perhaps other Republicans across California should start taking notes.

Timm Herdt is a columnist for the Ventura County Star.

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