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DECISION '98

Conservatives Retain Hold on Republican Party

Politics: Local races not kind to moderates; GOP concerns about open primary prove unwarranted.

June 04, 1998|JEAN O. PASCO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A coalition of political moderates failed Tuesday to wrest control of Orange County's Republican Party from a core of conservative activists, who celebrated standout victories locally and statewide.

The local results also proved that earlier GOP fears about the new open-primary system were unfounded.

Among causes for jubilation were the elections of former Superior Court Judge Anthony J. Rackauckas and Marshal Mike Carona for the nonpartisan seats of district attorney and sheriff, respectively; and the stunning defeat of Dist. Atty. Mike Capizzi in his quest for the GOP nomination for state attorney general.

Capizzi trailed former Deputy Atty. Gen. David Stirling even in Orange County. Statewide, Stirling beat him 2 to 1 on the strengths of an endorsement by former Gov. George Deukmejian and the repudiation of the state party, which last year demanded that Capizzi resign because of his aggressive prosecution of Republican politicians.

"It's probably illegal to feel this happy," state GOP Chairman Michael Schroeder, an attorney from Irvine, said Wednesday. "It's a clean sweep."

State Republican officials had argued against the open-primary system, in which all candidates appear on the same ballot, saying that voters from other parties could unfairly affect the outcome and weaken the conservative influence that has defined Orange County politics for the past 20 years.

But final results Wednesday confirmed the strength of incumbent Republicans and conservative contenders such as U.S. Senate candidate Darrell Issa, who prevailed here despite losing statewide.

Locally, 11 candidates out of 30 hopefuls from a group that called itself Republicans for New Directions were elected to the Republican Central Committee. The group had hoped to form a core within the 42-member committee to "encourage inclusion and diversity in party membership."

Group co-founder Ron Shenkman of Westminster said the goal was not to take control of the central committee but to help expand the membership to include more ideologies and political philosophies. Party leadership has been criticized for being intolerant of Republicans with differing views on such issues as abortion rights and local tax increases.

"We're pretty happy with the outcome," Shenkman said Wednesday. "We've got 11 people on, and we're looking forward to participating in the process. It's all about opening up the party more to a diversity of views. People adapt. We're going into it with a positive attitude."

He said the group has no agenda to replace longtime conservative county GOP Chairman Thomas A. Fuentes, who has been in the job since January 1985 and will be up for reelection in January 1999. Fuentes has not said whether he will run again.

Of the remaining 31 party seats, 20 went to the incumbents. Of the other 11, several were won by people who work for or are related to GOP elected officials. Among them are Wendy Baugh, wife of Assemblyman Scott Baugh (R-Huntington Beach); Jamie Morris Spitzer, wife of county Supervisor Todd Spitzer; Ed Royce Sr., a longtime conservative activist whose son is a member of Congress; and Brad Wilkinson, who works for Assemblyman Curt Pringle (R-Garden Grove). Pringle won the GOP nomination Tuesday for state treasurer.

One of the complaints of New Directions members has been that the central committee is too heavily controlled by legislative staffers and spouses. But Schroeder called that view exclusionary and said it is an insult to hard-working Republicans who won amid crowded fields, in two cases facing as many as 24 candidates for a district's six seats.

Party Executive Director Bill Christianson said the results represent a good mix of members on the committee. He credited New Directions with stirring interest within the party, creating the most hard-fought campaigns in recent years.

"I think some people think that we decide who runs for office and that we set policy" for elected officials, he said. "What they'll find is that we're really all about getting out the vote and fund-raising. And we like turnover. It's normal and it's healthy and it brings in fresh blood."

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