A political struggle for control of the Ventura County Republican Central Committee--highlighted by a fight over the issue of abortion--is expected to surface publicly next month in a showdown over the possible ouster of the county's GOP chairman, committee members said Friday.
Ostensibly, the scheduled meeting was triggered by last weekend's controversial remarks by Bill Jones, chairman of the group's executive committee, who expressed sympathy for former Ku Klux Klansman David Duke's gubernatorial campaign in Louisiana.
But committee members familiar with the simmering conflict said Friday that the controversy over Jones' comments, along with subsequent calls for his resignation, really is rooted in a deeper struggle for control of the 28-member panel.
"There are troublemakers on the committee who are pro sacrificing babies," Lee Casey, a member of the panel and an ardent opponent of giving women an abortion choice, said in an interview Friday at her Oxnard home.
One of those "troublemakers," she suggested, is committee member Bob Larkin, a Simi Valley insurance agent.
For his part, Larkin said he will match his conservative Republican credentials against anyone in the county.
"I'm really to the right of Attila the Hun," he said in a telephone interview. "I just draw the line at forcing someone" to eschew the abortion option.
Actually, Larkin said, the committee's internal dissension transcends the volatile abortion debate.
"The division is between those people who want to use the committee for a single issue--anti-abortion--and those of us who want to use it for traditional issues such as registering Republican voters and getting out the Republican vote," he said.
Jones, who says he works in the computer business out of his Simi Valley home, became the head of the GOP committee's executive panel last month. His apparently supportive remarks about Duke ignited some political fires.
Jones said, in effect, that Duke, who was resoundingly defeated, was being massacred by a biased media and should be allowed to speak out on his beliefs. Moreover, he told The Times that if he had been a Louisiana voter, he would have done his own "research and investigation to see who the real David Duke is."
Last Monday evening, at a special session of the GOP executive committee, four of its seven members called upon Jones to resign, according to a source who attended the session and who requested anonymity.
Finally, the source said, it was decided to call a special session for Dec. 12 to decide whether to retain or dump Jones from the chairmanship.
But, according to Larkin, Casey and others, the Jones controversy is really about who controls the county's central committee.
Normally, seats on a political party's central committee are uncontested. When there are no contests for the seats, candidates' names do not appear on the Democratic and Republican ballots.
But even when there are contests, the candidates are hardly household names and normally spark little voter interest.
In recent years, however, some special interest groups have focused on political party county committees throughout the country as a way of gaining leverage for their causes.
Such was the case in 1990 in Ventura County when several anti-abortion candidates campaigned for the committee seats--and won.
Some of these successful candidates participated in anti-abortion demonstrations at family planning clinics in Ventura last year.
For example, one of them is Richard B. Lawson of Thousand Oaks. In 1990, Lawson, now a member of the GOP executive committee, became public affairs director of a new anti-abortion umbrella organization, the Alliance for the Protection of Children.
Reflecting on the success of the anti-abortion candidates in that election, Larkin said few conservatives were prepared for it.
"They snuck up on us," he said.
As a result, Larkin said, the anti-abortion faction has put together 15 votes on the 28-member committee. While that is a majority, it is still not enough to adopt resolutions which require a two-thirds vote to carry.
Casey said her group, which she said espouses traditional family values, will make a big push in next June's primary to get the two-thirds majority needed to adopt official policy statements.
Their opponents, although Republicans, "are espousing the principles of the Democratic Party," she said.