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Leading Black Republican Protests Party Official's Letter

Vice chairman attacks secretary's complaint that GOP sees African Americans as 'window dressing.'

January 22, 2003|Michael Finnegan | Times Staff Writer

A California Republican Party leader has identified himself as a "detestable, insensitive racist" in a sarcastic letter that thanks the top African American in the state GOP for serving as "black window dressing."

The letter by retired white rancher Randy Ridgel, a member of the party's Board of Directors, responds to complaints by state GOP Secretary Shannon Reeves, who is black. Earlier this month, Reeves said that some GOP leaders expect African Americans to "provide window dressing and cover to prove this is not a racist party, yet our own leadership continues to act otherwise."

In his letter to Reeves, Ridgel, 72, wrote: "At my age, with the distractions of being a detestable, insensitive racist, I grow befuddled from time to time, but I just don't remember your being hired as our black window dressing."

Ridgel criticized Reeves for sharing his concerns with the news media and suggested that Ward Connerly, an African American who has led efforts to kill affirmative action programs in California, would be more suitable window dressing.

"Knowing your propensity to avoid public appearances, as the job of black Republican window dressing requires, I would have been inclined to hire someone appropriately black but perhaps more garrulous, than your bashful self -- such as Ward Connerly, who, it may surprise you to learn, is not only satisfyingly black but a member of our party too," Ridgel wrote.

"I don't know why but I always fall down on my duties as Party Detestable Insensitive Racist when I encounter Ward; I actually like and respect him."

Ridgel, who lives in rural Kelseyville about 100 miles north of San Francisco and serves as the state party's vice chairman for northwestern California, went on to ask Reeves who occupies the party's Irish, Lithuanian and Arab "window dressing" posts.

"Thank you for your service as California Republican Party black window dressing," Ridgel wrote.

Reeves said Ridgel's remarks were "blatantly offensive to an entire segment of the American population."

"He's just spouting off this hateful bigoted rhetoric and he's targeting it all toward me," said Reeves, the only African American on the state party's 26-member board.

The clash among board members comes as Republicans are still struggling to recover from the uproar over racially charged remarks by Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi. Lott was forced from his post as majority leader after speaking favorably about Strom Thurmond's segregationist bid for president in 1948.

The conflict between Ridgel and Reeves is also the backdrop for a nasty race for the state GOP chairmanship between party Vice Chairman Bill Back and Silicon Valley lawyer Duff Sundheim.

Back's distribution of an essay discussing the potential benefits of a Confederate victory in the Civil War led Reeves to call on him to withdraw from the race. Back has apologized for sending the article to GOP activists but remains a candidate.

Back and Sundheim condemned Ridgel, a Back supporter, for his letter to Reeves.

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