When a political party loses seats it has long held, its leaders tend to come together, lick wounds, figure out what went wrong and try to fix it.
It’s also a time people get vocal, maybe snipe at each other and maybe air grievances in public.
It’s happened before. It’ll happen again. It’s still happening with the Republican Party of the 38th Assembly District.
The locals suffered some big losses during the last cycle. Katie Hill and Christy Smith became the first Democrats to win the congressional and Assembly seats. And although school board seats are non-partisan, Democrats David Barlavi and Laura Arrowsmith won in the Saugus district.
It was not a total loss. Many Republicans won or held onto non-partisan seats, including in the city council, William S. Hart, College of the Canyons, Newhall and Sulphur Springs school boards. But the Barlavi and Arrowsmith seats particularly stung, local party chairman Mark Hershey said, because “They’re the biggest, most visible ones.”
It became too much for some younger Republicans, who started shouting that there was a need to reach younger voters, to raise more money, to recruit new talent to run for offices. And it rubbed some of the old guard the wrong way, resulting in disagreements and the censure and removal of one of the Central Committee members.
Allegations flew, many unsubstantiated. But one thing was clear: Local Republicans had lost their way a bit and would need to refocus to win back seats in 2020.
“My expectation is that they’re going to do their jobs,” said Mike Garcia, a 25th congressional district candidate. “I have been leaning on them. I’ve been somewhat patient with them realizing that they are still reeling from the last election. They’re still trying to figure out who they are, and I know they’re working through some of the personnel issues. … It’s still early, but this is something that’s got to start right now, so I’m hopeful they’ll get it together shortly.”
The truth is, there’s only so much a local political party can do. The county, state and national parties handle much. In fact, party communications chair Joe Messina said, the local party, known as the 38th AD, is chiefly responsible for getting Republicans elected to local races such as city council, school boards and water boards.
But losses up the ballot hurt, too, and might affect local results, so the party leaders have discussed what went wrong in 2018. In the Saugus races, Messina said, Barlavi benefitted from two Republicans running. The 38th AD endorsed Jesus Henao, but Evan Patlian also ran, and he split the vote. Barlavi beat Patlian by 5 percentage points and Henao by 11.
Arrowsmith unseated Judy Umeck, Messina believes, because she was a young, energetic teacher who also benefitted from the voter turnout that sent Hill and Smith to victories.
So, what went wrong? Local Republican leaders focused on several things: The Democrats had higher voter registration, raised more money and had more community involvement. Messina said plans are being drawn up to combat the other party’s gains, although he declined specifics.
But some, such as Cardon Ellis, 36, also felt there was a greater need to reach younger voters through social media. He suggested increasing the online presence on Facebook and adding a simple “Donate” button on the main website (scvgop.net).
“He came in with grandiose ideas,” Messina said, adding he isn’t sure social media wins races but recognizes it brings awareness.
Ellis was liked enough to be appointed to the 38th AD Central Committee. But he also rubbed some people the wrong way. Messina would only say, “He was doing things that were putting the committee in danger.”
Regardless, Ellis was censured and removed from the Central Committee by a 5-2 vote. He provided a list of reasons, all of which he denied. These include incurring expenses without permission, telling a reporter he was not impressed with the Republican candidate, creating his own team to respond to media stories and then not disbanding it, and berating older members.
Ellis particularly objected to the following: “The member has in essence created his own ‘ghost committee’ and doing what he wants the way he wants. This makes for the committee wasting way to much time in cleanup mode. He has created what may be too many liabilities for the committee.”
Ellis blames Messina, but his removal didn’t please everybody. Ellis showed texts of support from Councilmembers Cameron Smyth and Bill Miranda, Smyth saying he told Messina he didn’t approve and Miranda expressing condolences and regrets that the committee removed “the young high energy guy who has ideas and can move us forward.”
“You’re going to have disagreements. It’s the nature of the game,” Smyth told the Gazette. “That being said, I’ve never seen a Central Committee member removed like Cardon.” Since the seven Central Committee members are elected to four-year terms, Smyth thought it could have been handled at the ballot box.
Miranda said he thought Ellis brought his demise onto himself because he didn’t take the time to listen and learn. But he also said he would like to see Ellis back on the Central Committee.
“I think the Central Committee’s got to look in the mirror and say, ‘What are we going to do to modernize ourselves? What are we going to do to fight elections in the new battlefields, the social-media battlefields, the internet battlefields?’ The days of phone calling, door knocking and print advertising, although those are still important, they don’t win elections by themselves anymore,” Miranda said. “You’ve got to be on social media. Like Cardon said, put a donor button on the website. How hard is that? We didn’t have a donor button on the website. The Democrats are raising money like crazy, they’re getting voter registration like crazy, and most of that is through social media.”
How successful the party is will be seen a year and a half from now. Miranda would like to see a consistent message that resonates with Republicans old and young. Smyth said he’s confident the Republicans will coalesce around the eventual nominees. Messina said the party is working to increase youth involvement, raise more than the $60,000 it raised in 2016 and recruit new candidates.
Garcia is one of those new candidates.
“I’m being patient, but I’m being very clear there’s an expectation that all levels of government and all levels of these Republican groups are expected to get the vote out and get the support out for the candidate,” he said.