In his new role as chairman of San Joaquin County's Republican Central Committee, Garry Duncan says that 2012 will be a challenging year.
Duncan, 56, says he is hoping that enough Republicans are elected to the state Legislature next year to encourage some compromise with the Democrats in tackling the state's financial crisis.
"I think the state government has been pretty dysfunctional in the last 15 to 20 years," said Duncan, who lives in Woodbridge. "I think that's why we have so many (ballot) initiatives in the state."
If Republicans gain four or five seats in each house, Democratic leaders will have to be more willing to compromise with the GOP on legislation, Duncan said.
Saying that state and federal governments work best with a mixture of Republicans and Democrats, Duncan blames Assembly Speaker John Perez and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg for not placing bills sponsored by Republicans on the floor for a vote.
"We can't be seen as the 'party of no,'" he said. "But we've basically had to play defense and block some really horrible bills."
Republicans need to focus on legislation regarding the jobless rate, businesses leaving California and taxpayers paying health and other benefits for public-sector labor unions, Duncan said.
The Central Committee is a little-known group of elected officials for each party who have four basic duties — voter registration, fundraising to get Republicans elected at the local level, endorsing candidates and taking positions on ballot measures.
"I think they picked themselves a winner," Lodi Mayor Bob Johnson, who used to work in Duncan's commercial real estate office, said of the Central Committee. "One thing I have always felt about Garry is that he is a very, very, very smart man, and he has a high energy level — two of the attributes you need in a position like that."
The big mystery that Duncan sees in the 2012 elections is how the open primary system will affect the outcome, Duncan said. Under the new system, beginning with the June primary next year, voters will have all candidates — regardless of party — on their ballot. The top two candidates in the primary will square off in the November election, which means it could be two Republicans or two Democrats battling in the general election instead of one from each party.
A resident of Stockton, Lodi and Woodbridge for most of his life, Duncan has a bachelor's degree in political science from the University of California, Los Angeles.
"I've always been kind of a political junkie," he said.
As a partner in the real estate office that his late father operated, Duncan said he's had many interesting political discussions with Johnson.
"Garry and I used to have some pretty deep discussions about what was going on in not only the city and the county, but what was going on in Sacramento and Washington," Johnson said.
But real estate and politics aren't enough to keep Duncan busy. He serves on the Woodbridge Municipal Advisory Council and San Joaquin County's Assessment Appeals Board.
The Woodbridge MAC is a seven-member elected board that makes recommendations to county officials about issues affecting Woodbridge. He was appointed to the council about five years ago to fill a vacancy, but his term expired after one year. He thought it was a two-year term, so he didn't reapply.
However, Duncan was elected back on the MAC for a four-year term in 2008.
Duncan said he enjoyed his first stint on the MAC because the major issue was updating the county's General Plan, the county's land-use document that has yet to be adopted. Now it's more about maintenance, such as improving drainage and monitoring the county-owned Woodbridge Wilderness Area.
As for the assessment appeals board, Duncan is one of three people who conduct hearings with property owners who think their property assessment is too high. Quite a few people within the county have sought to have their assessment lowered due to the recession, he said.
But Duncan's heart is in politics.
"I like politics; it's local," he said.
Contact reporter Ross Farrow at firstname.lastname@example.org.