In a county where Democratic registered voters exceed Republican by three to one, former Menlo Park Councilman John Boyle has taken on a challenge: getting Republicans elected to local offices.
As the new executive committee chair of the San Mateo County Republican Party, Mr. Boyle said encouraging more Republicans to run for office is the local party's top priority – higher than taking positions on policy issues.
Despite California's reputation for bleeding blue, he pointed out, there are many Republicans holding local offices, including nonpartisan seats on school boards, city councils and special district boards. And there are lots of such positions: about 400 in San Mateo County alone, he said.
"A big part of this is making sure seats don't go unfilled," Mr. Boyle said. "The sad truth is that some of these (positions) are low-profile and attract maybe people who are just focused on one issue, or are strong advocates for extreme positions – in both parties."
"We try to recruit people who believe in fiscal responsibility and are conservative with tax dollars," he said. Other "core" Republican values, he said, are personal liberty, personal responsibility, and trust in the market.
In his own stint on the Menlo Park City Council from 2006 to 2010, he said, hot-button party politics didn't divide the council as much as the local application of philosophical, and often party-linked questions, such as what role government should play.
Running for office, he said, requires a lot of the same kinds of support as someone starting a business. Campaign fundamentals, like putting up lawn signs and raising funds, he said, can feel foreign to political newcomers. Like an entrepreneur, he said, attracting funding is a major part of the work involved in being a political candidate, but so is listening to community feedback and communicating with potential constituents.
The county Republican party works with would-be candidates to help them get started, he said. Some candidates are assigned mentors, or attend campaign schools or other training programs. Countywide networking events also help party members in local elected positions discuss shared regional challenges.
Getting Republicans into local, nonpartisan elected offices, he said, serves the purposes of his party by developing a "bench" of party members, who, by serving in these positions are being trained for higher office.
"People today serving on the school board may well be tomorrow's assemblyperson or state senator," he said.
Having a polarizing president does "create some challenges" for his efforts, he acknowledged.
When asked what he thinks of President Trump, he said: "My opinion is that he was an atypical candidate in many ways and is an atypical president. ... A huge number of Americans said they didn't want the status quo and are tired of career politicians and wanted to try something different.
"The beauty of the American system is that it has checks and balances. As Trump is realizing, he has to work within that trio (of government branches), we can afford as a country to experiment a little bit. He is clearly not a career politician – he doesn't behave as a career politician – and that makes a lot of people anxious. But change is always going to make people anxious."