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photo.JPGIndependent campaign expenditures are corrupting politics and young voters are reshaping California's electorate by eschewing parties.

Those were points of agreement in a talk between practiced adversaries John Burton, chair of the California Democratic Party, and California Republican Party chairman Jim Brulte during a Tuesday morning panel at an American Association of Political Consultants conference.

The talk began with a discussion of whether California has become a one-party state, given Democrats' legislative supermajority and control of every statewide elected office. Brulte, a former state senator who readily acknowledged his party's woes as he campaigned to lead California Republicans earlier this year, pointed to "failure to recognize changing demographics" and said Republicans have been too reluctant to venture into communities outside of their traditional power base.

"If we want to be successful we have to get outside of our comfort zone," Brulte said. "Too many Republican party leaders or Republican elected officials spend all their time talking to the choir."

With his characteristic bluntness, Burton said Republicans have driven to the right and diminished their persuasiveness among moderates, having "appealed to a smaller hardcore of your party, which helps you in a primary but screws you in a general election."

A focus on social issues risks fracturing the Republican base, Brulte said, pointing to the "libertarian" lean of younger voters and suggesting Republicans would have more success with economic issues.

"Economic issues are the issues that unite Republicans; other issues tend to divide Republicans," Brulte said, adding that "the way you win elections is by talking about what unites you and divides the other side, and, you know, my party has spent a lot of time talking about what divides us and unites Democrats."

Another key dynamic is the rise of voters who don't register with either party, Brulte said, pointing to "a disdain with the extremes on both sides." Burton agreed, particularly when it comes to younger voters.

"I think both parties are full of s---," Burton said, paraphrasing what he called a common view among young voters. "That's basically what it is."

Crime has surfaced as a potential campaign issue recently, with Republican and former Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado laying the groundwork for a run against Gov. Jerry Brown by condemning prison realignment, a strategy for reducing California's prison population that Maldonado contends is damaging public safety.

"I just think crime is an issue that could be a higher profile issue in 2014 than it is now," Brulte said after being asked whether Brown's record on the issue could play a role in the gubernatorial race.

Both men agreed that campaign finance needs a serious overhaul. Brulte argued that the primary issue is not the amount of time candidates take to raise money -- a favorite topic of moderator and USC professor Dan Schnur, who asked about campaign finance -- but the outsize influence of independent expenditures.

That type of spending has meant that "legislative leaders have seen their influence wane," removing a key counterweight and making all politicians beholden to outside money, Brulte argued.

"Today, legislative leaders need the special interests," Brulte said.

"Let the record show that at the conclusion of one hour of conversation between the chairs of the California Democratic Party and the California Republican Party, the two agreed on something," Schnur said.

PHOTO: From left, John Burton, Dan Schnur and Jim Brulte appear at an American Association of Political Consultants panel in Sacramento on Tuesday. The Sacramento Bee/Jeremy B. White



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