There may be trouble on the Tulare County Republican Central Committee. Or, there might not be. It depends on who you ask.
“There’s always things like that you get on any central committee,” said Committee member Dennis Smith, who expressed surprise at the suggestion all was not well among members of the Committee. “I’m not going to call it dissension.”
Committee Chair James Henderson also expressed confusion over the notion: “There’s no issues within the Central Committee whatsoever,” he said. “There are zero problems.”
But Tulare resident Michele Moore, who describes herself as a member of the Tea Party as well as a registered Republican, says she feels the local GOP Central Committee is too much controlled by what she terms “the establishment.”
To support her claim, Moore cites the influence of Charles Munger Jr., a frequent GOP donor, who gave more than $565,000 to the Tulare County GOP Central Committee in 2013 during the campaign of State Senator Andy Vidak (R-14), as well as what she sees as reluctance to support some Republican candidates, most notably Assemblyman Devon Mathis (R-Visalia). Mathis won his seat in a contest against fellow Republican Rudy Mendoza, Mayor of Woodlake, who was framed by local media as the heir apparent to Assemblywoman Connie Conway, who termed out in 2014.
“When I first went in seeking some help from the Republican Party, I didn’t get much interest,” Moore said. “I’m new to politicking. I just struck out on my own with my own people.”
What Moore sees on the Committee is a philosophical conflict between the established order and the Tea Party members of the Republican Party. Those in control seem reluctant to upset the order of things, she believes.
“We have the establishment,” she said. “It’s just like what’s wrong with the (national) GOP.”
Moore described the Committee as being too focused on fundraising and reluctant to discuss subjects beyond electing party candidates.
“It’s supposed to be a public meeting, but you’re just supposed to sit there,” she said of the Committee’s business meetings. “They don’t do anything as a group except once a month.”
Just Doing Its Job
That, says Chairman Henderson, is exactly what the Committee is supposed to do.
“We have a very specific roll: One, register voters; two, get out the vote; three, raise money,” he said. “We’re not a debate society. Our job is to get Republicans elected. Voter registration is up. Donations are up. We made 130,000 calls for the elections.”
Currently, there are three self-identified Tea Party members on the county’s 22-member GOP Central Committee, Henderson said. Those members are elected on a two-year cycle, are given seats because they have run for a GOP office or are appointed by the body’s executive committee as seats are vacated. Members may also appoint alternates to attend in their absence.
“We’ve been very careful to have equal representation,” Henderson said.
Moore Passed Over
However, when an elected member who failed to attend Committee meetings on a regular basis was removed and replaced as allowed by the Committee’s bylaws, Moore was passed over for the seat.
“We asked James Henderson to appoint Michele Moore,” Smith said. “The Executive Committee appointed someone else to that chair.”
The appointment went to Anthony Ratekin, now chief of staff for Congressman Devin Nunes (R-Hanford). Smith said he had no issue with Ratekin’s appointment, either philosophical or procedural, though he said he believes Ratekin may resign now that he has taken the job with Nunes’ office. Henderson said Ratekin will remain on the Committee.
Smith said Moore was put forward for the seat because she has been an effective advocate in the past.
“Michele’s been very active,” he said. “She just gets a lot done.”
Moore Supports Committee, Chairman
Moore said she has no problem with not being appointed. Her issue is an apparent lack of a conservative ethic on the part of those she labels as the establishment. Besides the Committee’s lack of support for some GOP candidates, she also voiced frustration with the party’s ready acceptance of Log Cabin Republicans, a fraction of the party made up of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender members of the GOP. Her main concern is that non-Tea Party Republicans on the Committee are not as concerned with maintaining constitutional rights as are Tea Party members.
“Our Tea Party isn’t radical, like back East,” she said. “Bring our freedoms back.”
Still, she maintains support for the Committee and its chairman.
“Overall, they’re not doing that bad a job,” Moore said. “They’re redoing the bylaws, so maybe there’s change there. The chairman shouldn’t have so much power. I like James, but I don’t love him.”
Moore stopped attending the Committee meetings regularly, but is still present when her schedule allows.
“I kind of quit going for a while,” she said. “I felt like I was just a layperson.”
Following the Law
Henderson said the review of the bylaws followed in the wake of the passage of Prop 14, which makes electing Central Committee members every two years cost prohibitive. Instead, the Committee is holds elections coinciding with presidential elections every four years. The change in bylaws, if it is made, would allow the Committee’s executive committee to remain in power during the entire four-year term of office.
“Because of Prop 14, if we want to have elections every two years we have to spend a ton of money,” Henderson said. “Consequently, we’re doing it every four years. The reason we’re going back (to review the bylaws) is to get the language fixed so … we are as transparent as possible.”
Regarding possible philosophical differences, Smith remains practical.
“We just have to work this through,” he said.
Henderson says he will remain focused on the duties the Committee is tasked to perform.
“Our job needs to be putting pressure by getting good Republicans elected,” he said. “We know there’s always someone who’s not going to agree, and that’s fine.”