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Saturday, Nov 10 2012 10:00 PM

ROBERT PRICE: The message: Kern is still as red as ever

By The Bakersfield Californian

The days that follow presidential elections are always devoted to parsing the "messages" behind the verdict. The country's GOP leadership certainly received a few such messages from voters: Republicans failed to unseat a vulnerable president because (a) they again failed to appreciate the significance of the Latino vote; (b) they spoke with a stunning lack of coherence about women's health issues; and (c) they lost the argument over whose policies can better sustain the middle class.

San Joaquin Valley voters sent out some messages of their own -- messages, particularly from the south end of the valley, that were very, very different from what Republicans were hearing on a national level. The balance of power may be shifting across America but in these parts we're still as conservative as they come.

The message we sent out: South valley voters sent some of the most stridently partisan conservatives back to Sacramento and to Washington, proving once again that this region is a world apart from the rest of California. Voters doubled down on their conservative values even as the rest of California crept further to the left, electing a Democratic supermajority in the Legislature.

It's been tough to get things done in California because of the one-sidedness of the partisan mix. Democrats have dominated. But domination of the type we're about to see -- two-thirds -- creates an entirely new set of problems. The only thing keeping California from becoming a one-party state is, to a great extent, the south valley. Message No. 1 is that the Republican Party, bruised and battered though it may be, is still hanging around. Here, at least.

The message we need to get: Local Republicans would be foolish to get too accustomed to the disintegrating status quo. The south valley, probably as split on the question of immigration reform as anyplace, must come to the realization that Barack Obama's re-election means the ground has shifted on this issue.

Amnesty of some sort is more likely than ever. New, broader paths to citizenship are a real possibility. And everyone -- especially Republicans who aspire to positions of leadership -- must accept the nation's new demographic realities. Republicans missed their opportunity to do so six years ago when George W. Bush's attempts to remake U.S. immigration policy were rejected by his own party. The GOP can't make that mistake again.

Why that message is important: Kevin McCarthy's re-election to the House is rich with implications for the south valley, too. As part of the House's Republican leadership, McCarthy will be jousting with the White House within a new set of perameters, and it will affect the way a number of issues play out, from immigration to high-speed rail to how we deal with the valley's staggering level of poverty.

The GOP's obstructionist strategy of the past four years seems to have been popular in the south valley, but millions of voters elsewhere called it for what it was, and Mitt Romney paid for it at the polls. McCarthy and the House Republican leadership need to find a balance that stays true to their conservative principles and respective constituents while acknowledging that their highest duty is to nation, not party.

Where the south valley lost -- and yet won: Local voters got their way on most of the regional legislative races, but they lost big on the slate of propositions, including the most meaningful one, Prop. 30. No shortage of irony there: This region has some of the lowest educational attainment levels in the nation, and an additional $6 billion hit to our schools would have been devastating. Call it extortion, but the fact is, California schools would have paid a big price had Prop. 30 failed. And no region's schools need a boost more desperately than those of the south valley.

Email Editorial Page Editor Robert Price at rprice@bakersfield.com.

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