Two of California's leading GOP commentators, radio host Eric Hogue and blogger Jon Fleischman, led a debate at a Sacramento Press Club luncheon this afternoon about Gov. Jerry Brown's proposal to place about $11 billion in tax extensions before voters.
Hogue supported negotiating with Brown and Democrats over the tax extension vote and possibly adding more proposals to such a ballot measure, including instituting a spending cap, reforming public employee pensions and streamlining business regulations.
Hogue repeated an argument used by Brown and Democrats that California voters deserved a chance to decide the issue.
"If you want to drive a hard bargain, great, but you have to sit down at the bargaining table," Hogue said. He added later, "I do not want anybody to come before a vote of the people."
Fleischman opposed lending any GOP support for the tax measure, saying union-backed groups would spend millions of dollars trying to persuade voters to approve it.
"I feel very strongly it's a bad idea to raise taxes in California," Fleischman said. "I also don't believe that it's responsible to place taxes on the ballot without assuming that they will pass."
About the union push, he said, "I don't believe it's going to be a fair fight."
The context for much of the debate, which was attended by some of the state's top Republican strategists and bureaucrats, was the future of the state GOP, which suffered bruising election losses in November. That issue will surely come up this weekend when the state GOP holds its convention in Sacramento.
Fleischman argued that the party's problem was it had become too moderate after seven years of former Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's leadership.
"I don't believe California Republicans have a history of being conservative in this state," said Fleischman, who's also the vice-chairman of the party's southern state chapter. "If we're going to come back as a party, the first thing we need to do is reconnect with our team."
Hogue made a much different argument, saying the party had failed to reach out to more voters and had become too ideologically narrow. He repeatedly brought up radio hosts Jon Kobylt and Ken Chiampou, who had put up an online image of Republican legislators' heads on sticks to warn them against supporting the tax extension vote.
"We don't have enough registered voters," Hogue said. "And the (decline-to-state) voters don't believe us."
This item has been updated correcting a quote by Jon Fleischman.