We used to talk about what that meant for a young black woman from southern New Jersey and a young white man from Oxnard, California. We were both raised with strong Democratic roots. We both grew up in humble families. We were both the eldest of two children. Being Republican was not necessarily something we were supposed to turn out to be.
But, like all Gen Xers, we grew up under 12 years of Republican presidents: Reagan and Bush. Margaret Thatcher was the British prime minister. TV character Alex P. Keaton (played by Michael J. Fox) on “Family Ties” symbolized the changing politics of our time, liberal parents, raising conservative children.
Fast forward 25 years and what you see is a 47-year-old Kevin Faulconer who has developed a 21st century, winning political road map for success. The winning coalition that the mayor-elect of America’s eighth-largest city put together is, in a word, diverse.
I hope the GOP powers-that-be in Washington, D.C., will take note because what Kevin did was unheard of for a Republican. I think it’s fair to say that Kevin took a page out of my political mentor, the late Jack Kemp’s, play book. He did not engage in divisive rhetoric. He focused on fiscal responsibility, economic inclusion and prosperity for all. Pocketbook issues are what matter most to the electorate, particularly in San Diego.
What Faulconer did was something that the national GOP must learn to do if it wants to remain a governing national party, versus a regional party that has pockets of influence in the Deep South and Midwest. Texas may go “blue” in 2016. That would be a major blow to the GOP, which counts heavily on Texas’ big swath of electoral votes. The Faulconer blueprint brings Republicans back to their core roots as a political party founded in 1854 in opposition to slavery. The GOP is a party founded on the ideals of diversity, inclusion, equality, and individual freedoms.
Faulconer put together diverse coalitions of big business, LGBT, African American pastors, women leaders, Hispanic voters, veterans, Asian-Americans, college students and soccer moms. The fact that he won by almost a 10 point spread in a Democratic-leaning city is astounding. And it proves that when you reach out your hand to people, listen to their needs, and work to meet those needs, you can win over voters who may not be otherwise inclined to support you.
The big lesson that the San Diego mayor’s race should teach national Republicans is this: Republicans can win big elections in big cities when they are moderates. Cities matter because they are the most populous places. Cities are where universities reside. Cities are where industry and the majority of our citizens of color live. Cities are where we see the greatest challenges in educational equality, economic equality, and poverty. The modern GOP is built on the notion of free enterprise, less taxes, and providing individuals the opportunity to live the American dream. What Faulconer must do over the next three years is to create “economic inclusion” for all of the city’s residents — not just a privileged few.
If he can pull this off not only does he realize his dream of economic growth and prosperity for San Diego, but he also creates a viable tax base in communities that are dependent on social services. I believe everyone wants a job. I believe everyone wants to work. There is dignity in work. Kevin Faulconer has a chance to put bold Republican talk into bold community action.
In the final analysis, the GOP has a serious image problem. African American voters have not supported national Republican candidates since the early Nixon years. Hispanic voters have swung to the Democrats in the past two elections. And women usually favor Democrats by a wide margin. In Faulconer, the GOP has a rising political star on its hands: He has shown them the way to keep their core conservative fiscal ideology intact and use it effectively as an outreach tool to diverse communities of women and people of color. If Faulconer can govern San Diego as effectively as he campaigned, and get re-elected in 2017, we are looking at a future Republican governor, and maybe even a future president of the United States.
Nelson, an SDSU graduate, is an author, attorney and former White House correspondent.
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