The Republican Party’s secret plan to take over Monterey County.

The GOP Candidate Machine: (left) Seaside Mayor and County Supervisor candidate Jerry Smith jumped parties in 2002. (right) Sand City Mayor Dave Pendergrass prefers Republican morality. photos: Jane Morba

Just to get an idea of how upside-down the local political world has turned, get on the Internet and Google “Monterey County Democratic Party,” or “Democratic Party of Monterey County.” No such information will appear. Quite the opposite in fact. Instead, you will be provided a link to the Monterey County Republican Party. Doubt it? Try it.

Click to that local Republican Party Web site and you will find its game plan spelled out in plain English: Win Elections. If that means hijacking the Internet—purposefully or not—or posing as Green Party officials to take votes away from Democrats (as party co-chair Paul Bruno is reported to have done), so be it.

Monterey County has been a perennial Democrat stronghold—but that is changing. Area voters have voted a Democratic candidate for president in 3 out of the last 3 elections. Local voters (with help from Santa Cruz, which also sits in this Congressional district) have sent Sam Farr of Carmel back to Washington, DC repeatedly since 1993. He replaced Monterey’s own Leon Panetta, who went on to rise to the highest levels of power as Chief of Staff to one of the most famous and controversial Democrats of all time, President Bill Clinton.

The Republicans have never been able to put up a solid challenge to Farr. This year, the GOP candidate, Mark Risley, frankly does not have a chance. He’s so desperately low on money, he challenged Farr (whom he calls a “rascal”) to run a campaign withoutadvertising.

But even though the GOP will not unseat Sam Farr this year, the party is likely to win some ground.

Since 2000, the local party has been busy at work, starting from the bottom up, searching out candidates to take seats in offices on city councils and the Board of County Supervisors.

They’ve taken what have been specifically non-partisan races and politicized them by picking their recruits and backing them with tutoring, database information and money.

They’ve even turned a few Democrats to their side.

The most famous local turncoat is Seaside Mayor Jerry Smith, an African-American with union roots who converted to the GOP last year and has been running a strong campaign for County Board of Supervisors. He’s had plenty of financial backing from deep Republican pockets, including a group of business leaders called the Lincoln Club of Northern California—which spends most of its annual $4 million war chest in Monterey County.

Jane Parker, Smith’s opponent, says she considers the recent strategy of county Republicans to win local seats a “very calculated set of moves.” She says that when she campaigns in traditionally Democrat neighborhoods of Seaside, voters are unaware that their mayor is a Republican. She says that reminding voters that she’s a Democrats makes for an easy “shorthand” for voters.

“It is new to actually emphasize the parties,” she says.

Smith counters that it’s not his party that’s politicized local races, but the Democrats, who are trying to use partisanship to obfuscate his credentials.

“There’s a manufactured perception that’s being construed that this a partisan race and it’s not,” he says. Smith has the support of traditionally Democrat organizations like SEIU (a service workers’ union) and the local hotel workers union.

Smith says his decision to switch from Democrat to Republican was a “personal choice.” He denies that any offer of financial support from a robust Republican fund-raising operation influenced him at all. He would not share why, in a non-partisan office, it’s made a difference to change parties.

The County Republican Web site boasts three other Democrats who have been converted to the GOP. Jack Barlich, formerly the mayor of Del Rey Oaks, has been named the Republican candidate to run against John Laird for the state Assembly seat representing the 27th District. Carmel city council member Paula Hazdovac and Sand City Mayor David Pendergrass are also recently turned ex-Democrats.

So successful has the Monterey County branch of the Republican Party been, its instruction manual for winning elections has supposedly been circulated among local parties around California. The book, which has become a kind of secret document—is allegedly known as the “Monterey Model,” and reportedly amounts to what one local politician called “politics 101.”

All it does is explain how to organize, how to raise money, and how to win elections, which is what American politics has always been. What’s novel about it is that the local Republican leadership in a state with a million more Democratic voters than Republicans, just had not been doing it. Instead, Republican leadership in Monterey County and throughout the state had been focused on moral lightning rods like abortion and gay marriage. They’d become irrelevant.

Everything changed in 2000.

A little more than four years ago, a group of mainstream Republicans banded together to run for the central committee, the local party leadership. They gathered up candidates, pitched in some money, and printed up slick brochures.

On the cover of one pamphlet, there’s a cartoon of an elephant, the Republican symbol, bound in thick chains, like a prisoner. It reads, “Monterey County Republicans: Liberate our Party from the Radical Right!” Inside is a slate of 21 candidates for the central committee, including several prominent Republicans, including a couple of elected officials. Ila Mettee-McCutchon, who has gone on to be elected mayor, was a Marina City Council member. Joseph Grebmeier was a member of the King City city council.  Jim Stilwell was the harbormaster in Moss Landing, who left in controversy in 2001. Jeff Davi, a real estate broker, was a former candidate for the county Board of Supervisors. 

This slate of reformers made several promises:

• Return the Party to the mainstream ideals of Lincoln, Reagan and Eisenhower.

• Broaden the base and reach out to “African-Americans, Asians and Hispanics.”

• Register voters to the Party.

• Unite, not divide, the Party. “We may disagree on certain issues, but all opinions will be respected.”

• Recruit and enroll “more attractive candidates” because  “some of the most promising now decline to run because they’re uncomfortable with the present leadership.”

• Raise money.

The candidates enjoyed the endorsement of Monterey public relations tycoon David Armanasco; former county supervisor and former state water board member Marc del Piero; vintner and former Assemblyman Brooks Firestone; Salinas Valley agribusiness magnate Basil Mills; and then-Carmel Mayor Ken White, among others.

Of the slate of 21 candidates, 17 were elected to the Central Committee.

The architect of this successful campaign is a man named Peter Newman.

— — — —

Peter Newman is the chair of the local party and he lives in Pebble Beach.

He makes no bones about the fact that he does not like Monterey County Weekly. When asked to talk about the successful re-organization of the party, he balked.

“My instincts are you people have been very unkind to Republican candidates and Republican causes and I’m not sure I want to be in your paper,” he said. “I’m really not interested in being interviewed.” He then admitted that he has never read the Weekly.

Apparently word from the top spreads fast.

An interview scheduled for later that day with Robb McFadden, executive director of the party at Salinas headquarters, was cancelled within minutes of the conversation with Newman.

Although McFadden had agreed to the interview, an assistant called in his place to say McFadden was not allowed to talk.

“He’s been given word not to talk until we can resolve the biasness issue,” the assistant said.

Paul Bruno, who co-chairs the party with Newman, also chickened out.

One source said the concern was that Bruno would be treated as harshly as he had been by the press in Santa Cruz.

Although this paper ran a piece last year about how Bruno had been appearing as a counter-protester at anti-Iraq War demonstrations, their concern was with other revelations about him.

A late-September article in the Santa Cruz alternative weekly, Good Times, got readers ready for some trickery on the November ballot. According to a minor scandal that broke in this and other papers in April, it’s alleged that Bruno posed as a Green Party official to recruit a Green Party candidate named Brook Madsen in the race for state Senate between Democrat Peg Pinard and Republican Abel Maldonado.

The Good Times article says that Madsen pulled out of the race when he realized Bruno was really a Republican Party official.

“Local Republican officials say they don’t support Bruno’s actions but point out that he didn’t do anything illegal,” the article says.

Like McFadden, Bruno had also agreed to an interview for this article, then abruptly begged off.

Paula Hazdovac did not return phone calls. Jack Barlich has been in ill health lately. When contacted by telephone, he said he was not able to continue a conversation because he was “not feeling so hot.”

Subsequent phone calls were not returned. 

But one Democrat turned Republican who gladly spoke was David Pendergrass, mayor of Sand City.

— — — —

A former graphic designer at Fort Ord, Pendergrass says he was a moderate Democrat until a few years ago, when he decided that he could no longer abide certain “morality” issues. Pendergrass will not be specific, but says, “I believe the Democratic Party is too liberal in terms of family orientation. I very much believe in the family unit as it is. That’s not any political thing. That’s God-ordained.”

Although Pendergrass has been mayor of Sand City since Jimmy Carter lived in the White House, he says he was all but abandoned by his fellow Democrats. No one ever came around. No one ever offered to help. 

“That kind of hurt my feelings,” he says.

So just when Pendergrass was mulling a switch, the local Republicans came knocking.

“I told them you could not have timed it any better,” he says.

The son of New Dealers, Pendergrass says, “If my parents knew I switched they’d probably turn over in their graves.”

Another converted child of Democrats is Marina Mayor Ila Mettee-McCutchon. After switching, she successfully converted both her late parents to the Republican Party.

The hard-charging former Army colonel is very careful to point out that she occupies a non-partisan office. She’s supposed to be non-partisan as Mayor just as she was as city council woman in 2000 when she was approached by both Peter Newman and Paul Bruno to run for Central Committee.

She says they told her, “We want you to do this because you have name recognition as a former commandant [of the Presidio of Monterey] and now as a city council member.”

For Mettee-McCutchon, the local GOP suffered under leaders who only wanted to talk about abortion and homosexuals. Such issues rarely if ever pop up on city council agendas around here.

“The reason they convinced me to do it was the Republican Party in Monterey County was too focused on issues we thought as mainstream Republicans were not important and did not put the best face on the party…It was fracturing our party.”

It was also disorganized. As an Army officer, Mettee-McCutchon had been trained how to deal with the press. She learned to get her point across. Now the local Republican Party trains its candidates with mock interviews and mock debates. Candidates are given access to databases and other support.

“I believe they’ve [the Party] been quite successful at reaching out to all segments of society. I believe they’ve been quite successful at raising money. We now have a permanent headquarters on Main Street in Salinas. I believe they’ve been quite successful in reaching out to good candidates.”

The organization of the local GOP is impressive admits one local Democratic Party operative on condition of not being named.

“Just for perspective—they advertise on jobs.com. They have a full year-round office with a full-time staff. They’re really organized…the Democrats are just really not that organized.”

— — — —

A year ago, newly elected Carmel City Council member Erik Bethel, along with Araceli Anderson, founded a group called CLARO, which stands for Coalition of Latin American Republican Organizations.

Anderson grew up poor in south Los Angeles. She’s the first in her family to go to college—to UC-Santa Cruz, where she majored in economics, and to Stanford where she got a masters degree in International Relations.

“Most of us Latinos are born Catholic and Democrat,” she says. “And when you grow up a certain way, you don’t question how you grow up.

“In my case, I knew I couldn’t blame society for my disadvantage but I knew there was opportunity to overcome those things.”

She was a Democrat until about six years ago, when President Clinton got into his personal/national imbroglio and she found herself asking, “This person represents me?”

Now she tries to convince Latinos in Salinas that the Republican Party shares their values.

“The Republican Party epitomizes a lot of what we believe in, so we decided to form a group and it has grown steadily,” she says. “We’ve developed a Latino presence for the Republicans for the larger party.”

To do that, Anderson does outreach at Latino community events like Mexican Independence Day. The group also sponsors a youth soccer team.

She was not able to say how many Latinos CLARO has registered as Republican voters.

“I think our biggest gain has been presence in the community and that’s something that the Republican Party has lacked in the community,” she says.

Plus, speaking Spanish to the community as a Republican representative has become a major public relations asset.

“I get calls from Univision [Spanish-language television news] quite a bit,” she says.

— — — —

The new Republican Party has been tight-lipped recently with this newspaper and the old-timers are just as disciplined. Calls to several members of the old guard that were ousted in 2000 were not returned.

One former party official, when asked to talk about the new mainstream leadership said, “Oh you mean the liberals?”

Alice Moe, 80, of Salinas, however, was eager to talk.

Originally from North Dakota, Moe and her husband moved to Salinas because he was in the Army at Fort Ord. When he retired in 1963 they stayed. She was involved in local Republican politics for 40 years and a was member of the Central Committee for 20 years. 

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“I worked really hard for President Reagan,” she says. “I registered over a thousand voters, and a majority of them were Democrats who changed their party.”

She was on committees that wrote the party platform. Then the revolution of 2000 came around and Moe was forced out.

“Actually I didn’t want to run again,” she says. “Some of them blacklisted me. We won’t go into that. I’m just a little bit more conservative than some of them.”

Moe’s cause is morality. She’s proud to say that the political platforms she created had nine planks against abortion. Being so “pro-life” did not conflict with her attitudes about the death penalty, which she supports.

For her, the Republican Party is the only place for conservative Christians to turn politically, even if the Party has moderated hardline views like hers.

“We’ve got to keep our moral values,” she says. “Already they’re giving mixed signals and that’s not good. I don’t consider Arnold Schwarzenegger to be conservative.

“We’ve just got to stay the course. That’s all there is to it. People who think it’s OK to kill little unborn babies? They’re just braindead. I have to answer to the Lord. They’re just uncivilized.”

Moe did not have much good to say about local Republicans, who she finds not conservative enough. Except one.

“Mark Risley is wonderful,” she says of the man trying to unseat the very popular Sam Farr of Carmel.

A former personnel manager at Macy’s, Risley runs a business that hires out referees and umpires for high school sports contests.  He’s been a Republican since he registered to vote at age 18 but he has nothing good to say about the local party machine.

When he won the primary and became the GOP challenger, he says the local party officials contacted him but pulled short of helping him in any way.

“I have no idea what these guys’ strategy is. They were calling me like guys with nothing to do, stepping all over themselves,” he says. “Nobody thinks Sam Farr can be beat and I don’t want their money anyway.

In fact, when party officials saw a comment on Risley’s Web site urging a policy that weans the US from it overdependency on oil and its association with oil interests, Risley says he got a call from the Party telling him to remove it. That infuriated him because not only does he say they’ve shunned him, but they’re trying to change his opinion and control his message.

“I hate these friggin’ politicians, Republicans and Democrats both,” he says. “I think they’re mucking up the joint for us.”

— — — —

At the Democratic Party campaign headquarters on Fremont in Monterey,  central committee chairman Carl Pohlhammer has a T-shirt with a “W” crossed out hanging behind him and a cardboard cut-out of Bill Clinton beside him. A retired history professor, Pohlhammer now teaches introductory political science at Monterey Peninsula College.

As an analyst of the local political scene, the loss of Jerry Smith to the Republicans is not what he considers a “body-blow” but it’s enough that significant party efforts have been put into defeating his bid for county supervisor with the candidacy of Jane Parker. As far as local party priorities go, Parker takes a second only to the race for the District 15 state Senate seat sought by Democrat Peg Pinard and Republican Abel Maldonado. Pohlhammer says a Maldonado victory can be taken as a sign that Republican efforts to register Latino voters have been effective. 

“It’s something we have to be careful with,” he says. “We have been reaching out and we have to make it plain that the Democrats’ beliefs are central to the concerns of the Latino community.”

To that end, the Party has been organizing precincts and registering voters. Of beating Maldonado he says, “It’s our highest priority without a doubt.”

Still the conversion of Democrats like Jerry Smith are “red flags” he admits. It’s enough that the Democrats are now emulating some of the tactics of the Republicans. Just last week, they interviewed and endorsed a candidate for the Marina City Council, Richard Boynton, after finding him “very able.” Although the Party does not endorse in city races when there’s more than one Democrat running for the same seat—as in the race for Seaside Mayor—Pohlhammer says there is a renewed effort to build a corral of elected officials, the way the Republicans have been building one. For example, when Assemblyman John Laird is limited out, the Party must have a viable candidate—like county supervisor Dave Potter for example—to take his place and then someone to fill his vacancy.

“We need a pool of talent from which to get candidates for higher office,” Pohlhammer says. “We need people experienced in the political system or soon we’ll be without candidates.”

The Democrats have one disadvantage and that’s funding. Here and around the country, local business leaders like bank presidents and agricultural managers tend to be Republican, making them not only familiar faces to voters but a source of candidate funding. The local Democrats don’t enjoy quite the same financial heft, Pohlhammer concedes. Recent Republican victories have put them in elected positions, making decisions for a largely Democratic population, an irony and a challenge not lost on Pohlhammer. Expect to see more partisanship in what used to be non-partisan races.

“It’s healthy for us. I’m looking forward to being more active in local races,” he says. “We’re developing a capacity to bring people in. In the past we waited to see who would jump in. Now, I think the Republicans and I know we, are looking for new talent.”

If nothing else, he sees the upping of the ante as a chance to cut though the resultant muddle of two parties co-opting each other, adopting the opponent’s best ideas and using them for political gain.

“I don’t think it’s unhealthy,” he says. “People are constantly saying there’s no difference between the candidates. And the parties, to an extent that they’re polarized, this helps to expose the differences.”

— — — —

With the contest for voter loyalty underway in Monterey County, the Republicans have a distinct and potent weapon in their arsenal.

Dick Gourley of Pebble Beach is the co-chair of the Monterey Bay chapter of the Lincoln Club of Northern California. He’s a former senior executive with high technology companies like IBM and Oracle. When he moved to Pebble Beach from Palo Alto, he was approached by Peter Newman and got involved in politics. Unlike his local counterparts, Gourley is happy to talk about what Republicans are doing in Monterey County.

Created 20 years ago, the Lincoln Club is distinct from the party in that its 300 members are business leaders.  They tend to be more moderate and subtle than the “red meat” members of the larger Party. Gourley says members have included Charles Schwab (founder of the investment company of the same name), Donald Fisher of the Gap, and other “Silicon Valley-types.”

The Lincoln Club selects certain candidates to support after thorough vetting. In the past, the Lincoln Club has endorsed Marina Mayor Ila Mettee-McCutchon, supervisor Butch Lindley, Pacific Grove Mayor Morrie Fisher, Carmel Mayor Sue McCloud, Seaside Mayor and current county supervisor candidate Jerry Smith, and state Senate candidate Abel Maldonado.

Gourley speaks highly of what Newman has done to turn the local party back from its far-right leaning in the Alice Moe era.

“Both Peter [Newman] and Paul Bruno have worked really hard to strengthen [the party]. It isn’t rocket science. It’s something the Democratic Party and the unions have done for years,” he says. “It’s a coordinated plan to have good candidates run for office and build a farm team so someone on the Pacific Grove school board might be the next [State Senator] Bruce McPherson some day.”

To make that happen, entities like the Lincoln Club will get behind the people they like. If the financial help doesn’t come from the Club itself, it comes from members and friends of members who raise money and donate on their own. As Gourley puts it, “There’s kind of an infrastructure for giving.”

That’ a bit of an understatement. In 2000, the Lincoln Club raised $4 million and in 2002 it raised $4.3 million. Gourley says the bulk of money gets poured into Monterey-area races.

In an e-mail he wrote, “…the amount for Monterey Region was significant due to the changes in Monterey County Republican Party and the Lincoln Club’s desire to invest in candidates that represent the Central Coast.”

Now, with a brimming war chest of money, an efficient organization, and designs on toppling the Democratic influence in Monterey County, the Republicans are marching ahead while the famously and admittedly disorganized Democrats are forced to copycat the strategy and tactics being used against them.

As Gourley says, “The Republicans are just getting their act together and executing.”

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