In a move that upset some Republicans, three Assembly GOP leaders have intervened in the quickening race between Assemblywoman Cathie Wright and Republican challenger Hunt Braly, warning him to stop attacking Wright's integrity and party loyalty.
Braly, chief aide to state Sen. Ed Davis (R-Valencia) was rebuked in unusually sharp terms in a Jan. 8 letter signed by Assembly GOP Leader Ross Johnson, Republican Caucus Chairman Bob Frazee and GOP Campaign and Elections Chairman Paul Woodruff.
"Your continued use of unfounded inflammatory statements not only jeopardizes your candidacy but damages our Republican Party," said the letter, released Monday by Johnson. "We can only warn you that if you persist, we and other conscientious Republicans will do everything in our power to set the record straight."
Braly is the most serious challenger that Wright, of Simi Valley, has faced since she was first elected in 1980 to represent the 37th Assembly District, a sprawling area that stretches over three counties from Agoura Hills to Lompoc. Their June election face-off is expected to be one of only a handful of seriously contested Republican primaries in the state.
Johnson upbraided Braly for his "opportunistic challenge of a dedicated, highly productive Republican incumbent" and his use of "questionable tactics to gain attention."
Johnson specifically criticized Braly for telling a Santa Barbara newspaper that Wright has an "amicable relationship" with Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco) and voted with him "on a number of key issues."
"The fact is that Cathie Wright is one of the most loyal Republicans in the Assembly," the letter said. "She consistently votes with the Republican position."
Braly could not be reached for comment. But some local Republicans said the letter was a heavy-handed tactic that shows how seriously party leaders take Braly's candidacy.
"I think it's offensive. I think it's a threat letter," said one GOP political aide who demanded anonymity.
"If you want my opinion, this would be a major boost for Hunt," continued the aide. "He'll be able to use this and run with it. It shows what he's up against--insider politics, back-room politics and backslapper politics. And people are really sick of that."
A local GOP assemblyman, who also demanded anonymity, said the letter represents an effort by Johnson--the target of an ongoing effort within the Assembly GOP caucus to dump him as leader--to hold onto the vote of Wright, a past supporter.
Braly has repeatedly questioned Wright's well-publicized efforts to intercede with local police and judges on behalf of her daughter Victoria, who faced being jailed or losing her driver's license after accumulating 28 traffic tickets over several years.
He also has questioned Wright's party loyalty by pointing to Brown's efforts to help her with Victoria Wright's problems. In addition to recommending a lawyer, Brown telephoned a Ventura County judge to ask for leniency for Victoria Wright.
Wright previously drew party fire in 1988 after she sat out a Republican-backed vote to replace Brown as speaker with Assemblyman Charles Calderon (D-Alhambra). Her neutrality was viewed by some as tacit support of Brown, but she replied she was keeping a promise never to vote for a Democrat for speaker.
Wright said Monday she was "very pleased" with Johnson's letter, saying he wrote it on his own initiative after seeing the Santa Barbara newspaper article.
She said that although she is on cordial personal terms with Brown, she has consistently voted against his Assembly positions. Wright added that she contributed $250,000 of her own campaign funds last year to other GOP candidates.
"If that isn't party loyalty, I'll quit," she said.