San Diego's GOP central committee in turmoil

Slate mailers the factor

Two days before the June 3 election, MaryRose Consiglio and Tom Sherman emailed a group of candidates running for membership on the San Diego County Republican Party’s Central Committee. “We are sure you have noticed,” wrote the married couple, “the many and various slate mailers that…[list] candidates — and you were not included.” Consiglio’s and Sherman’s names were not on the slate mailers either, despite their being incumbents on the Central Committee. On Election Day, the pair lost their seats, although they will finish their current terms, which end in December.

In the latest election cycle, five incumbent Republican Central Committee members were defeated after not being listed on the slate mailers sent out in their state assembly districts. “The people who got thrown off were not the deadwood,” says Laura Sumrall, who was reelected to the committee from the 66th District. “They were the activists who were doing things, the people with clout, and I’m guessing that the committee chairman was threatened by that.” Sumrall says her name appeared on some of the slate mailers in her district, but not all.

Many Republicans and Democrats don’t know that they can vote for some of their party’s Central Committee members, or even that Central Committees run the Republican and Democratic parties locally. The committees perform a variety of functions, which include recruiting candidates, raising money, helping shape the party platform, registering voters, and supporting rallies for the party’s candidates.

Membership on the San Diego County Republican Central Committee is divided into two groups. Ex officio members are appointed by Republican congressional, state assembly, and state senate officeholders or past candidates for the offices. The committee has 17 ex officio members. A second group of members is elected in the general election by registered party members. There are six of them from each of San Diego County’s eight state assembly districts. At the start of every two-year term, the committee reconsiders its bylaws and selects an executive board, including the party chairman.

Tony Krvaric is the current chairman of the San Diego County Republican Party. In spring 2007, he succeeded Ron Nehring, who became the California Republican Party chairman. The party’s San Diego website says the following: “Born and raised in Sweden, Tony Krvaric was inspired by President Ronald Reagan to come to America.…

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“After becoming a naturalized citizen in June of 2003, he decided to become politically involved. Having seen, first hand, the devastating effects of socialism in Sweden and the rest of Europe, he was determined to stand up for the traditional, conservative values that helped make America great.”

In April, however, the online newspaper Raw Story claimed that Krvaric cofounded Fairlight, “a band of software crackers which later evolved into an international video and software piracy group.” After that story appeared, Krvaric circulated an email explanation among Republican leaders. According to Raw Story, the explanation stated, “Apparently there is a hit piece floating around on me, ‘exposing’ my wild high school teenage years.”

Sources I spoke with on the San Diego County Republican Party’s Central Committee said they like Krvaric but that he has difficulty tolerating dissent. They suspect the chairman is responsible for placing the lists of Central Committee candidates onto the slate mailers that went out before last month’s election. For each of the eight state assembly districts, there were nine or more candidates. But the mailers printed six names, or complete district slates. It’s easy to see how the three or more left off the list in each case feel targeted.

Krvaric did not reply to my phone message asking if he were behind the Central Committee lists on the slate mailers. Members of the committee’s executive board haven’t confessed to anything either, according to Laura Sumrall, who thinks her close association with Steve Francis made them “a little cautious” of targeting her completely. (She opposed the committee on its endorsement of Jerry Sanders over Francis for mayor of San Diego.) “But the discussion of the Central Committee lists happened in a silent meeting the executive board members will all deny,” Sumrall tells me. “We have a mole who was sitting in the meeting outraged but kept his mouth shut and told us about it later. And a couple of them have slipped and said, ‘But, you know, you can’t have people on the committee who cause trouble and aren’t willing to work together.’ ”

Sumrall does not blame the targeting on ideological factions. “But I believe in free dialogue,” she says. “And Central Committee members should not be selecting each other.”

Camille Cowlishaw agrees, saying the targeting has resulted from a pure power play rather than factional purging. Cowlishaw is another incumbent Central Committee member who was not on the slate in her district. The slate prevailed on June 3.

“There are a few people,” according to Cowlishaw, “who would like to control everything, including Tony Krvaric. They want to have no dissent, no confusion about what they want done. They want everybody to get along and have the same idea and be on the same page. I can understand that to a certain degree, but there has to be some discussion. I am vocal in my opinions, though mostly outside of meetings. But I don’t think my views were anti anything.”

When I asked Cowlishaw how long she’s been a committee member, she was unsure. She volunteered at Republican headquarters before being elected for the first time. “I went there for many years without belonging to the committee,” she says. “I guess I’ve been on it now at least six years.

“I was terribly disappointed when my name was not on the list this time, because I felt I have worked really hard for the party,” says Cowlishaw. “I’ve been involved in politics long enough to know that this kind of thing happens, but my biggest disappointment was when I kept getting different mailers [she received six] and they were all the same. And I thought the senders must have talked to somebody in the office who planted those names. It’s not good if committee members are not elected by the people but are selected by their representatives instead. Since many people don’t know what the Central Committee is but know they have to vote, they use the slates. They’re not going to look everybody up; they’re just going to take the easy road.”

One of the candidates who was on the slate and beat Cowlishaw was a local congressman’s 21-year-old daughter. “I’m not as well known as Briana Bilbray,” Cowlishaw says with a laugh.

I ask Laura Sumrall how the slate mailers originate. Industrious individuals get together and make big money from them, she tells me. “They will make up a name, file with the state, and get a code so they can do a mailer according to the rules. It’s kind of like having a time-share. People can buy in. You get a bunch of people to pay; then you do the mailer and make all the money. When a slate mailer goes out, the candidates and proposition proponents usually have all paid to be on it. Nobody is really endorsed by the party. That’s really the scam of it all. It’s all legal, but voters will get these slate mailers with the elephant on it and think, ‘Oh, this is the Republican Party endorsing these people.’ No, it’s somebody who put it together and charged people money and mailed it out. Suppose you’re a congressional candidate. They might charge you $1000 to be on the mailer; if you want to be an assemblyman, maybe $400 or $500, and, say, $100 for the lowly people.”

But things happened a bit differently with the recent mailers. Printed at their bottom, a note stated that an asterisk next to the names of the candidates meant the candidate had paid to be on the slate. All the candidates for the Republican Central Committee had the asterisks. But Sumrall says she didn’t pay a dime to appear on any slate. “So I called the number on the mailer that had my name, and I got a recording,” she says. “It did not identify a business. It just said to leave my name and number, which I did. I also asked why I was on the slate and who paid for it. Nobody ever returned my call, though I called twice.”

Records at the office of the San Diego County Registrar of Voters suggest what happened. Between January 1 and May 17, an organization called Citizens for a Better San Diego County took $18,300 in contributions, including $8300 from Atlas Hotels and $5000 from Thomas Sudberry. (Sudberry is currently petitioning the City of San Diego to build Quarry Falls, a massive condominium development in Mission Valley.) Citizens for a Better San Diego County, whose treasurer is Seventh District candidate for San Diego City Council April Boling, then made payments to five groups for “slate mailers to support SD Co Republican Central Committee candidates.” Family, Faith and Freedom Association and California Taxpayer Protection Voter Guide each received $2500. Citizens for Good Government received $2100, California Voter Guide, $2875, and Official Non-Partisan Voter Guide, $3000.