Every once in a blue moon, a political party will toss its partisanship aside and do the unthinkable: oust one of its own. It was a small group of Republicans who finally voted to impeach Richard Nixon. And members of the GOP are more than dismayed that Sen. Larry Craig decided to finish out his term, despite calls for his resignation.
Locally, Republican County Supervisor John Moorlach has turned his back on Republican OC Treasurer Chriss Street, whom Moorlach helped get into office, and on Oct. 16, the Republican Central Committee did something unprecedented by unanimously voting to call for the resignations of four of its own elected officials who sit on the Capistrano Unified School District Board.
"I have been a member of the central committee for 14 years now, and I do not ever recall this ever happening," says Mark Bucher, treasurer and executive committee member of the Republican Party's Central Committee. "It's very unusual for the Republican Party to ask Republicans to step down. Our job is to help elect Republicans."
The committee decided to create the resolution based on the mounting evidence of violations of the Brown Act, the state's open-meeting law, produced by the district attorney's office, says Bucher. But because of its extraordinary nature, he says, the committee had to pass a two-thirds majority vote just to write the resolution. Once written, it passed unanimously among the more than 100 members of the central committee.
"You don't have to be a Republican or a Democrat to know that what they've done down there is wrong and that they should be replaced," says Bucher of CUSD trustees Sheila Benecke, Mike Darnold, Marlene Draper and Duane Stiff.
The move shed further light on the unusual battle that has been brewing around the second-largest school district in the county for the past couple of years. "It's a unique circumstance," says Anna Bryson, a "reform" trustee elected to the school board last year. "The truth is a funny thing. It brings together diverse peoples. It always has."
"Republicans don't usually eat Republicans if you're a partisan," says Rancho Santa Margarita Mayor Tony Beall. The CUSD recall campaign he helped spearhead "isn't about that; this is about just doing what's right."
"Party affiliation is never discussed," says Sharon Campbell, a parent leader in the district who is active in the PTA and with the recall effort. "This is about our kids, about what's right for our kids. The fact is, [the board members in question] took from our kids and lied to us about it."
Although Bucher agrees the situation with the CUSD board members is "a matter of right and wrong and not left and right," the fact that the largely Republican South County region wants some of its members to resign from their elected posts will still carry a potent message to its party members.
"Republicans don't want to be represented by people who violate the law, and we would much rather have those kind of Republicans out of office than be represented by them," he says.
Board trustee Darnold says he refuses to get caught up in the "politics" of the local Republican Central Committee, which don't figure into his work as a school-board member. "What is the Central Committee? I really do not know. They don't tell me what to do. They don't have any influence on me. I have never asked for or received any support or even a phone call from them," he said via e-mail. "I am just a volunteer who has offered his time and commitment to the children and families of CUSD for the past several years. . . . I vote for people and principals [sic], not party politics."
Darnold said he is committed to the parents in the district who send him hundreds of e-mails each week. "I am not resigning from my elected position because of politics or politicians."
Trustee Stiff has had a harder time dismissing the committee's call for his resignation. "I believe the committee went too far—I take great umbrage to its action," he said via e-mail. "I have been a registered Republican for over a half-century, hold a Ph.D. in Leadership and Human Behavior, and have supported the 'party' in name and finance many times." Stiff said he will not be resigning from the CUSD board, "however, I am resigning from the Republican Party."
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Board president Draper could not be reached for this story, but in a meeting ?following the board's decision to accept the district attorney's findings, she said she will continue with the district until the controversial San Juan Hills High School—which has cost more than $140 million—?is completed.
Benecke said she had no comment.
"The CUSD administration and [ex-superintendent James] Fleming have always framed it as these right-wing political advocates who are trying to take over our school district," says Barbara Casserly, a parent leader and former supporter of Fleming (see "Hard Knocks," Oct. 5) and the school board. "Frankly, I believed that, and I was concerned with that—and I found it to be absolutely untrue." Of parent activists, she says, "Once I found out what their motivation was, it was the same as mine: the welfare and the well-being of our children."